The Rise of Design for Innovation Policy in Europe
by Anna Whicher
Spring | Summer 2015
Since 2010, when I last wrote an article for Catalyst, and now in 2014, the political landscape for design in Europe has transformed. In 2010, for the first time, design was included in the European Commission’s innovation policy. To implement the political commitments to design, in 2011, the European Commission appointed the European Design Leadership Board to make recommendations on a design policy for Europe. In 2012, the Commission funded six projects to raise awareness of what design can achieve for innovation. In 2013, they launched the Action Plan for Design-driven Innovation in Europe, and in 2014, they set up the European Design Innovation Platform. In 2014, design was included in 15 of the 28 European Member States’ innovation policies.1 But how did design become integrated into innovation policy in Europe? What are the lessons for other countries looking to develop design policies? And what are the challenges involved? This articles draws on the research from the SEE project as well as an interview with a European Commission official to reflect on these questions.
Figure 1: EU Design Policy Timeline 2010-2012
In 2010, design was little understood by government – in fact, in a public consultation on design, respondents identified that the greatest barrier to the better use of design in Europe was a lack of awareness and understanding of design among policy-makers.2 Nevertheless, 2010 was a milestone for design in Europe because for the first time design was included in the European Commission’s innovation policy:
Europe must also develop its own distinctive approach to innovation which builds on its strengths and capitalizes on its values by pursuing a broad concept of innovation, both research-driven innovation and innovation in business models, design, branding and services that add value for users and where Europe has unique talents.3
The policy, Innovation Union, makes a commitment to building capacity for design-driven innovation across Europe in both the private and public sectors. To implement the policy, the European Commission funded six projects under the European Design Innovation Initiative.4 One of these was the SEE platform (Sharing Experience Europe – Policy Innovation Design), a network of 11 European partners led by PDR at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Between 2012 and 2015, SEE aims to accelerate the integration of design into innovation policies and programs. To date, SEE has facilitated 55 workshops for over 600 policy-makers on the themes of design policy, design support, service design, social design and design management. Through research and workshops, SEE has successfully integrated design into 15 policies and 37 programs across Europe. Design is becoming more relevant to innovation because the understanding of innovation is expanding beyond traditional research and development (R&D) to embrace a broader set of more user-centered drivers. In 2013, the European Commission launched its Action Plan for Design-driven Innovation in Europe stating that:
A more systematic use of design as a tool for user-centered and market-driven innovation in all sectors of the economy, complementary to R&D, would improve European competitiveness.5
A design action plan for Europe is the culmination of a long chain of events and engagement by design stakeholders across Europe that is charted in the ‘EU Design Policy Timeline’. The action plan aims to accelerate the inclusion of design in innovation policies at European, national, regional and local levels and to create the capacity needed to implement these policies through three main objectives:
- Promote understanding of design’s impact on innovation
- Promote design-driven innovation in industries to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness
- Promote the adoption of design to drive renewal in the public sector
The action plan proposes 14 action lines and as an example, the first action line is ‘advocating design’s role in innovation to policy-makers across Europe’ and SEE is highlighted as an initiative that is already achieving this objective. Nevertheless there is still further to go on the journey to holistically integrating design into policy across Europe and the Commission stresses that the action plan is ‘one step in the longer term effort to highlight the role of design in innovation policy.’
Figure 2: EU Design Policy Timeline 2013-2015
It is the European Commission’s ambition that by 2020, design should be a well-recognized component of innovation policy across Europe. If this is to happen, what are the barriers and opportunities for other countries to develop design policies? What are the lessons we can draw from policies already in operation? According to an interview in January 2014 with the author of the design action plan in the Innovation Policy Unit at the European Commission, design represents significant opportunities for innovation policy:
Design is about creating new value for end-users. This is the distinctive thing about design compared with other drivers of innovation – it’s always focused on the end-user. There is a real need in Europe for this kind of approach to developing solutions. There has been a re-thinking of innovation policy, trying to find new drivers that have not been tested and validated enough thus far and design is among these.
However, the Commission also highlights a number of challenges associated with design: what is design? Why is design important? How can governments develop design policy?
The Commission is reluctant to provide a new definition of design because there are already so many. The action plan adopts the definition of design as an activity of people-centered innovation by which desirable and usable products and services are defined and delivered. The ultimate objective of the action plan is for other Member States and regions to adopt design-driven innovation into strategy as well as the take-up of design within industry as a whole.
To integrate design into innovation policy, governments need to understand design, the economic importance of design and how to develop design policies. It is vital that design stakeholders in a country promote a broad definition of design, beyond aesthetics and product development, to embed a more strategic understanding of design in government and industry. Design is a user-centered approach to problem-solving that can be used across the private and public sectors to drive innovation in products, services, society and even policy-making. Policy-makers also require an economic rationale to justify policy intervention in favor of design.
An increasing body of knowledge asserts the positive contribution of design to economic growth. The seminal study, the ‘Economic Value of Design’ research was first conducted in 2003 by the Danish Business Authority and Danish Design Centre and investigated companies use of and spending on design over a five year period. The companies were categorized into four stages of design maturity in the Danish Design Ladder: stage 1: no or little design, 2) design as styling, 3) design as process and 4) design as strategy. Linking performance data with investment in design revealed a correlation between a company’s use of design and economic growth. The study has been replicated in a number of countries across Europe and here, we collate the findings from six countries:
Figure 3: Design Maturity in Austria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Ireland and Sweden6
On average in the six countries, 33% of enterprises do not use design, 22% use design as styling, 30% use design as a process and 15% use design strategically. Danish and Swedish enterprises use design most strategically – 23% and 22% respectively – while Austria and Estonia have the least proportion of businesses using design in a strategic way – 9% and 7% respectively. In this way, Denmark and Sweden can be deemed to be design leaders, while France and Ireland could be classed as design followers and Austria and Estonia would be considered moderate design users. While insight into how companies use design in these six countries is intriguing, to contribute to evidence-based policy-making this data is required across all European Member States. Furthermore, it is not only investment in design by the private sector that is valuable but also public expenditure on supporting design compared with traditional innovation support – investment in R&D. Through the SEE Design Policy Monitor, the partners examined public and private expenditure in design compared with R&D in Denmark, Estonia, Finland and the UK.
In the UK, companies spend more on design than on R&D – although this is not the case in Denmark, Estonia and Finland. In these four countries, public expenditure on R&D support is on average 500 times greater than public expenditure on design support. In 2014, Denmark, Estonia and Finland all had design action plans in place. However, the fact that public expenditure on design is so low relative to R&D demonstrates that there is a gap between policy ambitions and implementation. The public sector needs to lead by example and promote the use of design to businesses by themselves investing in design. With policy developments at the European level and national levels, it is anticipated that both public and private expenditure on design will increase by 2020.
Figure 4: Image of a Design Policy Workshop
Design stakeholders participating in a Design Policy Workshop, 2012, Cardiff, UK
By promoting a broader understanding of design and demonstrating the economic importance of design as a driver of innovation, the only question remains – how can governments develop design policies? SEE has developed a hands-on workshop to enable design stakeholders – policy-makers, designers, academics and industry – to jointly develop design policy proposals. The workshop introduces policy-makers to design methods – ideation, visualization and co-development. Innovation policy is based on an analysis of the innovation system; therefore design policy should be based on an analysis of design within the innovation system. We have identified nine components of a design-driven innovation system: design users, design support, design promotion, design actors, the design sector, design education, design research, funding and policy. The workshop involves identifying strengths and weaknesses for each component of the system for the country and subsequently jointly developing proposals to tackle the weaknesses and capitalize on the strengths.
Examples of policy initiatives that resulted from the 19 design policy workshops include pilot projects to test design as an approach to public service innovation, design support programs to enable small companies to manage the design process, mentoring programs to train civil servants in design methods, academia-industry collaboration initiatives to enhance knowledge exchange, continuous professional development opportunities for designers, making design an eligible cost within innovation funding schemes and design promotion strategies. SEE workshops have proved an effective approach to introducing government to the benefits of a design approach to innovation. Through research and workshops, SEE has been able to influence 15 policies and 37 programs. By 2015, SEE will have delivered 80 workshops to government. These are intended to stimulate demand for design-driven innovation across Europe.
The understanding of design for innovation policy is spreading rapidly across Europe, with more and more countries developing design capabilities in policy. Through the Action Plan for Design-driven Innovation in Europe, the Commission wants to ‘reinforce recognition of design in future policy development’. The SEE network has supported national and regional governments to develop design policies and to implement design support programs to enable companies to use design more effectively. Europe is a powerhouse of design and now it is up to government to harness this power for innovation and competitiveness.
About the Author:
Anna Whicher is Head of Policy at PDR, Cardiff Metropolitan University and leads the SEE network of 11 European partners. Through new research and workshops for policy-makers the project has influenced policies and programs for design across Europe. She is also an elected board member to the Bureau of European Design Associations – a network of 46 design centers and associations across Europe.
1 Whicher, A. (2014) ‘Design Policy Monitor 2014. Reviewing Innovation and Design Policies across Europe’, SEE bulletin 11, June 2014, p.3. http://www.seeplatform.eu/docs/SEE%20Bulletin%2011%20-%20June%202014.pdf
2 European Commission (2009) ‘Results of the public consultation on design as a driver of user-centred innovation’, Brussels, p.6.
3 European Commission (2010) ‘Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative Innovation Union’, COM(2010)546, Brussels 06.10.2010, p.7.
5 European Commission (2013) ‘Implementing an Action Plan for Design-Driven Innovation’, SWD(2013)380, Brussels, 23.09.13, p.4. http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/innovation/files/design/design-swd-2013-380_en.pdf
6 Design Austria (2012) ‘Designbewusstsein in Österreichs Unternehmen’ (Design Awareness in Austrian Businesses), ISBN 978-3-900364-29-8, Vienna p.27. Danish Business Authority (2008) ‘Design Creates Value’, Copenhagen, p.10; Estonian Design Centre (2013) ‘Design Use by Estonian Enterprises’ SEE bulletin 10, December 2013, p.11. Boutin, A.-M., Clutier, D., and Verilhac, I. (2010) ‘Economie du Design’, Study conducted for the Ministry of Economy and Employment, Paris, p.5. Institute for Technology Sligo (2007) ‘The Design Difference. A survey of design and innovation amongst Ireland’s SMEs’, ISBN 978-0-948870-06-4, Sligo, Ireland, p.15. SVID & Association of Swedish Engineering Industries (2004) ‘10 Points. Attitudes, Profitability and Design Maturity in Swedish Companies’, Sweden, p.3.