”Design as a process should be central to all organisations across Europe”

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The event was a chance to hear the European Commission’s plans to unleash Europe’s potential and ensure global competitiveness via design. It brought together representatives from almost every EU member state to explore, debate and co-create ideas for European Growth by Design.

“This is the first annual summit and also the first year into what is a three-year program, called Design for Europe”, said John Mathers, CEO at Design Council in UK and Consortium Lead at Design for Europe. The program is born out of the EU-commission’s Action Plan for Design Driven Innovation with the ambition to promote the use of design as a tool for innovation and policy making.

From growth to prosperity
The influential design personality Ezio Manzini, Chair of Design for Social Innovation at University of the Arts London and a leading expert on design for social innovation, challenged the notion of both design and innovation as well as the concept of growth.

“We cannot grow continuously and design could help shift the discussion from growth to prosperity”, Ezio stated. He showed us a picture from Ventotene in Italy. Kids were playing safely in the street in the evening; there were no video cameras and no police officers present.

“How can children play safely on the streets in contemporary cities?” he asked. This should be our approach to innovation in urban spaces! Ezio also suggested a renaming of the event from “how design can boost innovation and create economic growth” to “how emerging design can promote social change and prosperity”.

Design as a differentiator
Both Bonifacio García-Porras, Head of Unit of Innovation Policy for Growth and Antti Peltomäki, Deputy Director-General both from DG Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship & SMEs at the European Commission referenced initial findings from the Innovation Union Scoreboard 2015 which reveals that the EU’s overall level of innovation has remained stable.

However, they also emphasized that innovation in Europe needs new boost and that design has untapped potential in the European economy. “Businesses that invest in design have an average of 50 percent higher profit margins according to a study done by Swedish Teknikföretagen”, explained Antti.

The new economic reality and change in business was emphasized by many speakers. “The one that adapt the fastest will make it”, said Ineke Dezentjé Hamming-Bluemink, President of FME-CWM. She continued to explain that many business models are outdated: “If you don’t look at your business model at least every month you’ll soon be out of business”

More Chief Design Officers
The change in business was also addressed by professor Anna Stenros, Design Director at KONE Corporation. She stated that we are entering an empathic economy. “There is no more business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) there is only human-to-human (H2H)”. Design as a process, she explained, is a process built on a platform of empathy and should be central to all businesses across Europe.

Anna Stenros also referred to the article “4 Reasons Why Design Is Taking Over Silicon Valley” by John Maeda and the fact that designers are now hired at a rate of one to four compared to engineers at tech startups in Silicon Valley. She argued that this should be a criteria in Europe as well.

She further challenged the audience by asking: “Where are all the Chief Design Officers in European companies?” In US CDO’s are taking their seats in the boardroom but there are very few role models of this in Europe. “We need to challenge companies and public sectors to take a step here”, she insisted and said: “I urge you to be the first in Europe to employ a CDO in the public sector!”.

Re-design systems that limit
Stefano Marzano, former Chief Design Officer at Philips and Chief Design Officer and Group Management Member at Electrolux Group urged the EU-commission to start a dialogue with the financial community.

“We need to find ways of re-designing some of the systems that are limiting the opportunity to develop growth in a different way. The financial world is measuring quarter by quarter, which puts pressure on companies to focus on short-term objectives. We need new indicators and values for companies that strive for social impact”.

On the question of how we might accelerate design driven innovation and scale design as a process Christian Bason, Chief Executive at the Danish Design Centre said that we should use the Design for Europe initiative as a trampoline: “We need to use what is being offered here as a trampoline and it helps if we are in sync”. One thing that he lifted to get us synced was the notion of a shared language.

Beyond case studies
Bason continued to explain that both business as well as design is changing. Design is changing towards a culture of co-design and new types of players are involved in design activities – businesses, public institutions as well as policymakers. “Design is what we need as an engine to empower organisations that are not that fast to become faster”, said Bason.

He also argued that case studies are in the past. ”We need to start sharing live processes, so we can follow and access the process in real time. Even if we are competing design studios, we need to start sharing”. Further he informed that they are going to do just that in DDC’c new program “plus”.

Train EU officials in design
John Mathers told the audience about IBM who are currently hiring a large number of designers and training 5 000 staff members in design thinking. He insisted that the European Commission should follow IBM’s example and train EU officials in design.

However, something that is already in the pipeline is an initiative that aims to stimulate the demand for design among SMEs. The European Commission has launched a tender to train SME intermediaries in design. This initiative will be coordinated by Design for Europe. The objective of this contract is to deliver a training programme to intermediary business development organisations, to help them include design-driven innovation in their services for SMEs – a kind of ‘train the trainers’ exercise.

In conclusion
There were a number of themes addressed during the day ranging from design as a differentiator in business to a re-newer of the public sector and as a means to citizen participation in policy. There were also a great number of calls to action from the speakers:

– More Chief Design Officers in businesses and public organisations
– Shift focus from growth to prosperity
– Training of EU officials in design
– Starting a dialogue with the financial sector

Louisa Szücs Johansson




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