The future of Danish design is to integrate it with innovation
Design is an important brick in the tricky jig-saw puzzle about how to rejuvenate the Danish economy.
The country is well known for its design traditions, beautifully designed products and its thriving design industry. In the 1990s Denmark was among the first countries in the world to adopt a design policies (=1st generation) but since then other countries have caught-up and even launched design policies emphasizing the dissemination of knowledge on how to use design and how to create better-functioning markets for design services (= 2nd generation policy). The UK, Netherlands, Korea, Singapore and Finland are just a few examples. If Denmark is to maintain its strong design identity, and if it is to become better at harnessing the innovative capabilities of design, these design policies need to be updated (= 3rd generation policy). An international group of six experts appointed by the government and chaired by me presented to the minister of business and the minister of culture the Vision for Danish design 2020 in June 2010.
Our task was to develop a vision, not a detailed action plan but we did a bit of both. We articulated a vision that we believe is both exciting and realistic and we made a number of suggestions for how to make it happen. I am absolutely delighted this was never a party political matter and that one of the strong players in the new government, the liberal RV party, presented their own design policy ideas already this spring. This means that there is a good chance that our suggestions will be converted into new and changed policies over the next few years.
In short, the we envisioned that in 2020 Denmark is known worldwide as the design society – a society that, at all levels and in a responsible way, has integrated the use of design to improve the quality of people’s lives, create economic value for businesses, and make the public sector better and more efficient. To quote from our report: “Our vision will be realized the day it is no longer necessary to explain and motivate the value of design or promote its use to Danish companies and public organizations. This is the day when design will have become an interwoven part of the psychological, social, and economic fabric of Danish society. This is the day when design will be as natural to Danes as caring for the environment.
From here we presented the landscape and the roadmap for design as a driver of innovation, design competency development, design research and future branding of Denmark. In this post I will only mention our suggestions regarding design as a driver of innovation since, in my view, this is where the real mind shift is called for. We argued that Danish public-private partnerships simply should use design to develop innovative solutions to societal challenges, especially in areas in which Denmark and Danish companies have advantages such as the green economy and welfare services. The example of the upcoming mega investments in five new hospitals was a frequently used example of where a more intentionally and integrated up-front use of design thinking and approaches could add much value. Specifically, in our vision of using design as a driver of innovation we suggested that:
• A majority of Danish companies use design as an important and integrated driver of innovation to strengthen their productivity and global competitiveness.
• Denmark has a significant number of specialized design firms that offer a wide variety of cutting- edge design products and services to the global market.
• The Danish public sector consistently utilizes design to develop better and more efficient services.
• Denmark remains a country where materials and products are shaped, developed, and produced in innovative ways.
Our many suggestions about this an other issues represent an important step for how Denmark can retain its lead in design (or avoid losing it) by thinking of design as interwoven with innovation and by seriously upgrading its research and education about design. While the rest of the world is busy overtaking each other in innovation and Denmark is slipping in international rankings about innovation. From the perspective of research and higher education the integrated design aspect of Alto University and the new Singapore University of Technology and Design are examples that speak for themselves, which contrasts with some recent developments in Denmark.
The full report is available for downloading from the ministry of business.