Friday, 4 January 2013

words spread in the wind?

it is noticeable how recurrent became terms like creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship over the last years, gaining prominence associated with the promotion of wealth, industrial advance, social development and ultimately economic growth. and design is joining it closely. but wasn’t it always like this? these same words – including design – could be applied to most of the achievements of mankind. the human aptitude to invent and develop tools to help hunting, cooking, working, transporting, had been considered to be – together with the opposable thumb – as the engine of evolution, the differential factor setting human species apart from other living beings.

then what is new about it? why being 'creative' became so significant now? or is it just a trend that will be blown in the whirlwind of economy in its search for nourishing novelty? how and why these words/concepts might be coming together and laying foundations for national design policies?

teresa amabile(1) describes innovation as the implementation of creative ideas. a formula that could be otherwise expressed like this:

creativity + entrepreneurship = innovation

and design could be considered either to be part of this sum of creativity and entrepreneurship or as well as a driver towards innovation.

but what context made these factors prominent? the global entrepreneurship research association points that, within the contingency faced by the world’s economy, “entrepreneurship can help reverse a downward economic trend”(2). the same report states that “business entrepreneurs drive and shape innovation”. so, entrepreneurship and innovation are considered to be crucial factors to reverse the current economic crisis.

to be innovation-driven is considered to be the highest ranking of competitiveness stages among countries. this categorization (adapted from michael porter’s “the competitive advantage of nations”(3)) emerges from the world economic forum’s global competitiveness report. there, a country’s economic development is said to fell into three possible subsequent stages: factor-driven (extractive), efficiency-driven (scale-intense) and innovation-driven (unique goods and services)(4),(5)

could design be considered one factor or a driver towards innovation? according to david kester, ceo (former) of the uk design council, in toughest market conditions, “business leaders are increasing their spend on design as they seek to out-compete and out-innovate” (6). the european commission have recently, in the context of the year of creativity and innovation, launched a document where design is appointed as a driver of innovation(7). and the european innovation plan(8), released in the autumn of 2010, furthermore explore and encourage this use of design.

therefore, the 'new context'  faced by the words/concepts creativityentrepreneurshipdesign and innovation is that of an world economy confronted by sharp decrease. within this scenario, jobs are scarce, competitiveness is a survival strategy, and knowledge is the highest ranked merchandise. the answer seems to be working out the potential of mankind’s engine of evolution – its ability to designcreate, enterprise, and innovate.

it is neither a doomsday scenario nor one where designers will manage to save mankind. but any nation aspiring to be elevated to the category of innovation-driven, aligned with more developed and sophisticated economies, should pay closer attention to which drivers do effectively promote innovation. and design is indeed a key factor in this environment.


(1) amabile, t.m; conti, r.; coon, h.; lazenby, j.; herron, m. (1996). assessing the work environment for creativity. academy of management journal, vol.39, no.5, p.1154-1184. 
(2) bosma,n. and levie,j. (2010), global entrepreneurship monitor 2009 executive report, global entrepreneurship research association, london, available at (accessed 11 apr 2010). 
(3) porter,m.e. (1990), the competitive advantage of nations, macmillan, london.
(4) porter,m.e.; sachs,j.j.; mcarthur,j. (2002). executive summary: competitiveness and stages of economic development, in porter et al., the global competitiveness report 2001-2002, (p.16-25), oxford university press, new york. 
(5) schwab,k. (2009), the global competitiveness report 2009-2010, world economic forum, geneva, switzerland, available at (accessed 07 jul 2010). 
(6) livesey,f. and moultrie,j. (2009), company spending on design: exploratory survey of uk firms 2008, university of cambridge, institute for manufacturing, cambridge, available at (accessed 16 dec 2009)
(7) commission of the european communities (2009), reviewing community innovation policy in a changing world, cec, brussels, available at (accessed 09 feb 2010).
(8) european commission (2010), innovation union, european commission, brussels, available at: (accessed 01 jul 2012)