Does a National Design Policy Make Sense? Most Activities Are Purely Academic and Rarely Create Any Real Impact.

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The idea of how effective a national design policy is came up a few times this week during casual conversations with my friends in the design world. I am generally unimpressed with these activities because I am a result-oriented person and I don’t waste time on just talking. I’ve seen many of these paper written up that don’t worth the paper that they were printed on.

The European Commission just launched an initiative this month to reinforce the link between design, innovation and competitiveness. The European Design Innovation Initiative (EDII) will have a secretariat located in the Designium Innovation Centre of Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland. Always Finland!

Why Finland? It is because mission of Aalto University is to integrate different creative disciplines, economics (yes it is a creative discipline) and technology, and the know-how and experience of Designium in broad-based utilization of design in creating industries. There had been a lot of discussions on design policy both in US and countries in Asia, the impact is still very minimal. Many countries including Canada, Spain and Taiwan sadly do not even have a design policy in place. There is no tax relief as support or government funded design programs and these are generally considered the very basics.

UK and Denmark are the two pioneers in developing a design policy and put serious resources behind to support it. I often find that the dialogues in design policy conferences were academic and fail to see the bigger picture. There is no shortage of ideas in these sessions but there is a lack of action. You can talk for days and nothing happens. The design education is in such a bad shape and every year we are pushing more and more people into the market that are not prepared to create economic value through design. It is almost a passé to talk how design touches all sectors of our daily life, and increasing awareness of that is good for everyone etc. That’s too general a statement, it is not difficult to see how design can bolster a country’s competitiveness and creating and keeping jobs. Then what should government do?

The question remains how and it is not about publishing more journals or hosting more seminars, it is rethinking the roles of designers to use design capabilities to enhance companies’ innovation effort and as a result create new growth industries. Not designing better looking products or fancy packaging. So a design policy on that is totally missing the point, we don’t need one. We need an innovation policy to drive the creation of creative new industries. We should not separate design from technology. And further more where is art? We need incorporate art, design and technology and develop a national policy to promote the integration of all that in industries.

Does China have a design policy? Or do they need one? Well it depends what do you mean by design policy. It is a very young industry and they are just beginning to understand design and what it means. They see it purely as a means for value add for OEM players. I’ve met with two dozens of design firms in China last year and came to the conclusion that they are 15 to 20 years behind us. There is an increasing demand for designers and a serious shortage but the schools have not been able to catch up. I think it was until 1999 that they first used the term “design” to substitute a fine art degree. I think there are around 412 design schools but mostly are teaching very basic and outdated methods. They have a long way to go. But let’s deal with our problems first.

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