Thursday, 31 March 2011

policy, innovation & design - a spring day in brussels

the sequence, installation at the flemish parliament, by arne quinze

how to summarise a very rich experience in just a few lines, eleven information-dense talks, discussions, meetings, experience exchange, in a few paragraphs? valuable, enlightening, substantial, inspiring, were some possible adjectives to describe this event.

see project (sharing experience europe) conference "policy, innovation & design" was held last 29th of march in brussels, belgium, on the beautiful auditorium of hall de schelp at the flemish parliament. more than 200 people, 25 countries represented, a whole day of reports and discussions, the chance to get in contact with people who are helping to strengthen the view of design as an asset that cannot be ignored by governments any more.

here are a few notes taken during some of the talks of the event.

johan valcke, director of design flanders, welcomed the participants of the congress highlighting what he described as the first steps towards an european design policy, and the importance for design flanders of the design summit that followed the congress in the evening.

the event was chaired by mark vanderbeeken (from experientia), who helped sew together all the diverse contributions. in his initial remarks, he emphasised that today more than ever design policies need stimulate thinking about how to cross barriers.

bernard de potter, general manager of enterprise flanders, addressed flanders planning for 2020, based on three drivers: smart growth, sustainable growth, and inclusive growth. he mentioned the european union goal to reach by 2020 an investment of 3% of gdp in r&d. he then sketched briefly each of the seven breakthrough projects involved in this effort: flanders learning society; the open entrepreneur; innovation centre flanders; green and dynamic urban region; europe's smart hub; caring society; decisive government. he closed his presentation highlighting the design platform flanders initiative, implemented by the 11-people team of design flanders in association with the flanders fashion institute, design platform limburg, inshape, design region kortijk and humin project.

next talk was given by gavin cawood operating director from pdr, the national centre for product design and development research, wales. "nothing changes unless you change policies", he mentioned, explaining why see project is seeking to establish an active link with local policy makers.

elena ferrario, project officer from interreg ivc, spoke about this european interregional cooperation programme dedicated to innovation and environment.

anders byriel, chairman of ddk, the danish design council, showed how the organization created in 1978  had boosted its operation with the opening of the new building in 2000. denmark was, according to him, the first european country to have an official design policy, in 1997 (which contradicted what gavin cawood had just mentioned about finland, adding some juice to further discussion and verification). anders cited the big growth of design supply companies (with more than 25 employees) in denmark, from only 4 in 1997 to 15 in 2009. he also highlighted what he considers to be some challenges to be overcome: the delivery of design content is getting more complex (hence the need for growth of the design supply companies); design's new role to help solve social challenges; the need for sme's to move one gear up to cope with the new agenda; the need for more front-end research, with technology and manufacturing involvement. according to him, denmark aims to become a "design society" by 2020.

"it's not what design is, it's what design does. if design can change the operating culture of a company, it can change the operating culture of a country."

that was the message of one of the best structured presentations of the day, by judith thompson, from new zealand's better by design programme. judith explained that the purpose of the programme is to inspire new zealand's best companies to experience success by design. and why the best companies, and not any company? because you might have the best programme in the world, but if you don't have companies that have the ability to integrate design, the propensity to transformation, a ceo open to learning, the programme will not succeed... that's why better by design initially selected 80 companies to work with two goals in mind: to inspire (expose to design) and then to enable (embed design). they followed a "design integration formula": purpose + culture + capability = differentiated consumer experience. what's next? better by design aims to become more like it's costumers and less like a government's agency.

a service design toolkit targeting local authorities, demonstrating an human-driven way of design thinking to improve the quality of public services. the kit, launched at the event by alain denis and kristel van ael, was developed by yellow window and namahn, together with design flanders and vvsg, the association of flemish cities and municipalities. the kit was distributed to all the participants of the event.

patrick janssens, mayor of antwerp, gave an inspiring talk about design in public administration through two examples. the first one, about the re-branding of the city of antwerp, started from the lack of consistency in the visual communication of the city, which used its coat of arms in about 150 different versions. a new simple and catching logo was created, and is used together with the slogan "it's everyone's town". the traditional coat of arms is associated in several uses, and this lively and contemporary new image helped to establish a better communication with citizens. but according to the mayor, branding is about content - when you don't have anything to say, it's useless. it's not about form, it's about improving services and relationships. so the re-branding keep up with a re-design of public services, as the new police stations, the second case of his presentation. the new antwerp police stations are helping to reshape the relationship of citizens and police, transforming both the environment and the services.

the mayor was followed by adina balog, from the association of flemish cities and municipalities (vvsg), who talked further about the service design toolkit, and how design specialists planned during one year to introduce local governments to service design.

from the finnish agency for innovation, sitra, brian boyer discussed design as a government capability. he accentuated that sitra focuses it's activity rather to design within government than to design for government; and to develop policies by design than policies for design. how? through experiences such as the helsinki design lab, which aims to "help government leaders see the architecture of problems" using strategic design. below is a video with an example of this activity (more can be seen on the hdl's vimeo channel).

peter dröll, head of unit at the directorate general enterprise and industry of the european commission was next, talking about the innovation union strategy, that generated in 2009 the report "design as a driver of user-centred innovation" (available here). the following step of the european design innovation initiative will be the constitution of an european design leadership board, with 15 members coming from industry, agencies, designers and higher education. the secretariat was established in helsinki, and will be head by prof. eija nieminen, director of the designium innovation centre at the aalto university. after all, design is a powerful enabler for innovation systems, according to dröll.

between the talks, during lunchtime and coffee breaks were exhibited short films showing design policy developments in spain, italy, france, wales, slovenia, estonia, finland, denmark, ireland, poland and belgium.

the event at the flemish parliament was closed by a short debate with some of the speakers of the day, moderated by the chair, mark vanderbeeken.

leaving the parliament, the signing of the flanders design platform charter at the first flanders design summit, followed by the opening of a design exhibition at the design flanders gallery provided a proper closure for the event. over a whole day, design was revealed as an effective supporter of human and economic development, and a primary tool for public administration. it may be said that the state-of-the-art of design policies from around the world flourished with the freshness of spring in brussels.

a very important update:

all the content of the conference is now available online at the see projec website here.