Design a whole new world: creative skills in STEM

Creative skills in STEM

Creative skills in STEM can be a huge bonus. Here’s how design thinking can power a super career

Everything around us – every household item we touch, every website we visit, every bus or plane that takes us from A to B – was once an idea in someone’s head. And with emerging technologies rapidly changing the way we interact with the world, those with both creative and technical skills are in a unique position to shape our future. 

By itself, STEM is already a highly creative field. It takes imagination to come up with scientific experiments, solve complex engineering problems or find the answer to long standing maths mysteries. But if you also find yourself scribbling designs for new products in your notebook or love building digital worlds on your computer, a career that combines STEM with design might be for you.

Gaming for good

Thanks to the industrial revolution, we enjoy a high quality of life here in Australia. But there’s always room for improvement, and creative STEM workers are busy making the world a better place all over the globe.

For example, tourism organisations are helping people with disabilities visit hard-to-reach places through video games, and researchers in Switzerland found that patients in intensive care recovered faster after viewing nature imagery through a virtual reality (VR) headset.

Game and interaction design is no longer just about creating the next Pokémon GO. Immersive technologies create distinct experiences by merging the physical world with a simulated reality and it’s a big part of training in industries like aviation and health. The same skills used in developing games can help a pilot nail a take-off or landing; or assist surgeons to visualise where to make incisions on the body and pull up patient’s diagnostics during operations. Students can even go on a field trip without leaving the classroom – day trip to the Roman Colosseum, anyone?

Fashion forward

But you don’t need to disappear into a digital world to combine creativity and STEM. Those skills are needed in the real world, too, to design and produce physical objects. Designing for STEM industries is another pathway. For example, fashion design students at QUT worked with staff from the Faculty of Health to design new uniforms for healthcare professionals of the future.

In another project, industrial design students worked with Orange Sky, a mobile laundry service for the homeless, to design seating for clients to use while they waited for their washing. The chairs had to be functional, but they also had to be aesthetically on-brand – a very important consideration for designers of all kinds.

Learning about the people who will ultimately use your designs (also known as ‘end users’) is an essential part of the process. Designers need strong user research skills, as well as the ability to communicate their ideas through sketches or prototypes. Depending on their specialisation, they might also need to know how to code or use Computer Aided Drawing (CAD) software.

A creative STEM career could see you working with augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR), robotics, or artificial intelligence (AI) – or you could design the next revolution in the humble toothbrush! Who knows what your next big idea will be!

Choose your path

QUT has the widest range of design disciplines on offer across Australia, including tons of double degrees and opportunities to study overseas.

Bachelor of Design students have seven majors to choose from, such as fashion design, interaction design, industrial design and architecture. Students in all disciplines work on four Impact Lab units during their degrees, where the project themes and briefs are set by industry experts and focus on real-world problems. Students from different disciplines collaborate in teams to spark multi-faceted ideas.

Industry influence

On top of that, first year design students take part in a week-long design intensive where they work with and learn from members of the industry on campus. And at the end of the year, the Design Festival gives students a chance to showcase their work to industry and the public.

In the final year of the Bachelor of Games and Interactive Environments (with majors in animation, game design and software technologies), all students work as part of a team with an industry partner to develop and publish their project, which is then unveiled at the annual IT and Games Showcase.

Other degree options include the Bachelor of Creative Industries, which can be combined with IT or Data Science degrees. There’s also the brand new Diploma in Esports, which offers a pathway into the second year of the Bachelor of Games and Interactive Environments.

Creative skills in STEM – areas to explore

Interactive design

Interactive Design (or IxD) is all about how people interact with technology in different environments. User research is at the core of what interaction designers do, and they also need to know some coding basics. Interaction designers are sometimes called user experience (UX) designers or web designers.

Industrial design

Industrial designers improve our lives by creating or redesigning the products, services and systems that we use. Starting with user research, an industrial designer might design anything from sustainable packaging to transport systems. They then build a prototype to test before it goes to be manufactured and marketed. Industrial designers need to be technically minded and able to sketch their ideas, as well as seeing both the big picture and the tiny details. 

Product design

Product design is similar to industrial design, but focuses more on the design and prototyping phases rather than manufacturing and selling a product. Product designers also tend to work on everyday products and digital products such as apps or software. Like industrial designers, product designers need skills in user research, sketching and prototyping.

Start your career here

Design and Creativity Study

How to get those creative skills in STEM…

Design and Creativity Jobs

And here’s how you can use those creative skills in STEM…

  • Product designer: $52K–$108K
  • Industrial designer: $48K–$87K
  • Quality assurance (QA) tester: $49K–$99K
  • User experience (UX) designer: $58K–$109K
  • User interface (UI) designer: $51K–$100K*

Salaries according to

Design and creativity role models

This article was created in partnership with QUT and originally appears in the QUT STEM Guide 2022.

Chloe Walker

Author: Chloe Walker

Chloe is a freelance writer and editor from Melbourne. She loves talking to people about their passions, whether that’s STEM, arts, business, or something else entirely!


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