Top Designs 2018

Top Designs 2018, a VCE Season of Excellence event, was officially launched by designer Leah Heiss on Friday 16 March at the Melbourne Museum. This is an edited version of her inspiring speech.


My name is Leah Heiss and I’m a designer and design lecturer at RMIT University.

Through my design practice I create technologies and experiences that aim to improve or even save life. My projects include jewellery to administer insulin through the skin for diabetics, vessels to remove arsenic from drinking water and emergency jewellery to communicate allergies in times of medical crisis.

Leah Heiss standing behind a lectern

Designer Leah Heiss standing behind a lectern addressing
the crowd at the launch of Top Designs 2018

I have just finished designing the world’s first modular hearing aid with Blamey Saunders hears, called Facett. It’s currently in the showcases over there.

Facett’s crystalline geometry, colour and arrangement are all informed by Museums Victoria’s mineralogy collection. I have designed Facett to be precious rather than medical, helping to bypass the stigma that is associated with hearing aids.

I’m so excited to be here tonight to launch Top Designs. I’ve been a designer for 15 years and wholeheartedly believe that design can improve the world. I hope that my diverse experience of working across interior, product, technology and experience can relate to your amazing projects.

I feel thoroughly honoured to be in the company of such talent!

The VCE work you will see here tonight is exceptional – it ranges across so many important areas and provides us with an extraordinary insight into the future. For the young designers in this room are our future – they will design the autonomous vehicles, the robotic interfaces, the AI infrastructure – their collective creativity will help solve our environmental issues.

Every single work in the exhibition has at its core a unique insight. This might be a central message, an idea, a solution or an observation that takes us into the mind of the designer – and what a fascinating place that is.

From early on I was interested in design innovation. I worked with my dad in the workshop to construct inventions, the ice-skate tightener and the super-sonic-barbie-mansion complete with sustainable green rooftop garden – quite ahead of its time.

This tinkering helped me understand that when there is a problem to solve – whether it’s loose ice skates or a habitat for Barbie – we need to get to the drawing board. These early experiences also showed me that prototyping was critical. The first ice-skate tightener we made was a coat hook and a block of wood. It didn’t work! But it helped us to figure out what to do next.

Design thinking doesn’t happen in our heads, it happens on the page and at the kitchen bench. Designing is bringing ideas into the real world.

One thing that I’ve learned through my work is that designing also means collaborating with people from other disciplines. In order to do interesting projects I’ve worked with nanotechnologists, doctors, scientists, audiologists and many types of engineers. I’ve also worked closely with industrial designers, fashion designers, textile designers and weavers.

Leah Heiss standing behind a lectern

Designer Leah Heiss standing behind a lectern addressing
the crowd at the launch of Top Designs 2018

What you’ll see this evening is evidence that Top Designs students show real confidence and originality in their use of many diverse processes and techniques. The projects range from electrified furniture, Mars rovers, contemporary beehives, 3D printed prosthetic limbs, animations, garments and immersive sound works.

Top Designs students are prototyping and innovating, creating and pushing boundaries. They are engaging with client’s needs and developing design solutions while keeping in mind the bigger issues that face us as a community – resources, sustainability, usability, environment.

This exhibition is an insight into the way that our next generation of designers think – what makes them tick. It is also a portal into the future, what it will look like, sound like and feel like.

So, my main advice to you would be to keep creating, building, crafting and collaborating. Through your work you are prototyping the future.