Governments across Europe and around the world are looking for new drivers of innovation to enhance national and regional economic, sustainable and social development. In this broader understanding of innovation, design is increasingly being recognised as a component of user-driven innovation. As early as 1997 innovation leaders across Europe developed dedicated design policies including three successive strategies by the Danish Government with ‘DesignDenmark’ in place from 2007 to 2010 and Finland’s ‘Design 2005!’ active from 2000 to 2005. In 2011, no European country had a dedicated design policy in operation although Demark is in the process of developing a new policy based on the Vision of the Danish Design2020 Committee. However, a significant number of countries and regions have design articulated as a priority in a national or regional policy document such as an innovation policy or economic growth strategy including: Belgium / Flanders, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom / Wales. Of course, many more European countries and regions have active design programmes, design centres and well-rooted design traditions such as Germany and the Netherlands but do not have a vision for design articulated in a key government policy document at national level.
In our report ’Reviewing Innovation and Design Policies across Europe’ (available to download below), we provide the statements about design from the policy documents. Of course, it is important to stress that not all leading design nations in Europe have found it necessary to articulate a policy for design. It should also be acknowledged that there is often a gap between a government’s vision for design and the policy implementation on the ground. Nevertheless, a policy statement for design provides insight into the context in which design is understood and valued by government. For example, many of the policy statements from the Central European countries still consider design narrowly in terms of industrial design and product development as revealed in the policy statements from the Czech Republic, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. However, a number of policy statements recognise design as part of the paradigm shift in innovation to include non-technological and user-centred drivers such as Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia and Catalonia. Increasingly, design is quoted in policy documents as a tool for services such as in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Slovenia, Spain, Catalonia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. However, only in a minority of policy documents is design’s role in social innovation acknowledged as in Denmark, Finland and the United Kingdom. Proactive policies which recognise the broader scope of innovation and the spectrum of design’s contribution from industrial and product design through service design to social or strategic design tend belong to the European innovation leaders. To employ a tool developed by the Danish Design Centre, the degree to which design is recognised in European policy documents could be represented as a ‘Design Policy Ladder’ where countries move up the ladder, when more strategic importance is attributed to design.
The contribution of design to innovation is increasingly recognised across policy levels throughout Europe. As a peer-learning platform that brings together design organisations and regional governments, SEE has sought to examine the policy provisions for design to provide insight for strategic innovation policy-making. At the first thematic workshop in June 2009 in Lyon, the partners and their policy-makers participated in an exercise to map the scope and depth of innovation and design policies and programmes in their region or country. In order to understand how the policy priorities evolved over the years, the partners repeated the process in June 2011. As part of the workshop, the delegates performed a self-assessment to examine the following five questions:
1. Is innovation policy well defined in your region?
2. How well is design integrated into your region’s innovation policy?
3. What is the current innovation policy, when was it launched and when will it be revised?
4. What is the scope of the current innovation policy?
5. What is the scope of current design programmes or policy?
Examining innovation policies provides insight into the visions, missions and objectives articulated by governments and enabled the partners to identify where design could fit into national and regional priorities. Consequently, it should be noted that in the case of innovation policy, the responses are based purely on the policy documents (that is the government vision) not on measures implemented on the ground. Also, the partners and policy-makers in Belgium (Flanders), France (Rhone-Alps), Italy (Tuscany), Spain (Catalonia) and the United Kingdom (Wales) have focused on their regional polices and development programmes rather than national level policies. The comparative assessment of the state of innovation and design in the partner regions and countries reveals a number of key trends:
• Innovation is the centrepiece of strategies for economic growth across policy levels in Europe. Whereas in 2009, only six of the eleven partners had dedicated innovation policies and two possessed no policy document referencing innovation; by 2011, all partners had at least one policy document stating innovation priorities, either as a dedicated innovation policy or as significant component of their regional economic development strategy. By 2011, nine of the eleven partners had dedicated innovation policy documents.
• In 2009, the innovation policies were focused on the traditional drivers of innovation (product development, technology and manufacturing) and only a minority of countries embraced broader innovation domains such as service innovation, social innovation and user-driven innovation. Whereas, by 2011, all the policies clearly exhibit a broadening of the innovation policy remit to include non-technological drivers.
• In 2009, design was only explicitly highlighted in five innovation polices but by 2011, design featured in nine policies, almost double the number. Nevertheless, the strategic importance attributed to design may not be as advanced as hoped by some design stakeholders. The main focus remains industrial design.
• It is well established that the understanding and application of innovation are expanding; however, the scope of design in innovation policy is also broadening to reflect design domains which have not previously been recognised in policy such as service design for public services and design thinking. In 2009, service design was only explicitly mentioned in one policy but this increased to two in 2011. However, design for services (rather than service design explicitly) was mentioned in five of the eleven policies. Design thinking, not cited in 2009, appeared in the Finnish policy in 2011.
• Although only Denmark had a dedicated design policy in the period under examination (DesignDenmark 2007-2009), both in 2009 and 2011 all partners were able to report on design support and/or promotion programmes demonstrating that in terms of implementation, design is well represented at programme delivery level even if not so well represented at policy level. In the majority of cases, design programmes are government financed.
• Whereas design programmes previously had a significant emphasis on traditional design support domains such as industrial design and product development, more programmes are embracing service design for the private sector (Wales, Flanders, Denmark, Finland, France and Ireland), public sector (Flanders, Denmark, Finland and Poland) and design management (Wales, Flanders, Denmark and Finland) as well as promoting new roles for design (Finland). This demonstrates that design, like innovation, is continuously expanding.