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By Chuan Li (UVEG)

Design should be at the service of Europe’s future. That was the spirit of the first ever Design Policy International Conference: “Successful Europe. How Can Design Serve?,” held at Helsinki Central on Dec. 5.

At the invitation of BEDA – The Bureau of European Design Associations — the Econcult of the University of Valencia participated in this unique gathering of top level designers and policymakers in search of new design-driven strategies to keep Europe as a global leader on the world stage.

Designscapes team member Dr Chuan Li was on hand to discuss BEDA´s latest draft of a new Design Action Plan for Europe and proactively shape the development of next-generation design policy for Europe, together with other nearly 100 European and international experts from the fields of business, environment, government, policymaking, science, technology and design.

A conference to address priorities of new EU strategy

The conference was composed of three sessions:
The first on European policy landscaping, wherein Dr Anna Athanaopoulou, head of Tourism, Emerging & Creative Industries at the European Commission, discussed the role of design and the CCIs in a successful Europe. Anna Whicher, Head of Design Policy at PDR, communicated BEDA´s recommendation for the next generation of design policy.

The second session included three speeches concerning the relations between design and priorities (climate change, European value and digitalisation ) of the new EU strategy. Julia Lohman, professor of Practice in Contemporary Design, Aalto University, talked about designing policy and action through co-speculation based on her practices in seaweed arts. Tommi Laitio, executive director of culture and leisure of the city of Helsinki, explained the audience of the democracy-oriented urban generation of Helsinki and the Helsinki Central Library Oodi as a symbol of civic engagement and co-creation. Erkki Liikanen, Chair of Helsinki Graduate School of Economics and former governor of the Bank of Finland as well as European Commissioner for enterprise and information society, spoke about the impact and trends of digital society and the potential role of design.

The final session explored the mechanisms by which design can serve the above strategic priorities through a co-creation-based workshop. The conference ended up with a closing speech by Antti Vasara, President & CEO of VTT (Technical Research Centre of Finland), about the vision and goals for Industry 2030 and what design can do to achieve this strategy.

DESIGNSCAPES partner Chuan Li participating in the discussion of BEDA´s latest draft of a new Design Action Plan for Europe.

Towards the next generation of design policy for Europe

To respond to A New Strategic Agenda (2019 – 2024) of the European Commission and to explore the enabling role of design in the implementation of the strategy, BEDA – the Bureau of European Design Association – published its position paper to proactively define the action plan for design. This proposed action plan involves four main aspects, as follows.

First, the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of design help to achieve the goal of a climate-neutral and zero-pollution continent through the transition towards a circular economy by designing and changing the production cycle, business models and consumer behaviour.

Second, collaborative design-driven innovation should provide user-oriented approaches to empower both private and public sectors to provide the best solutions and services for citizens and their needs and thus, ensuring growth and prosperity for all.

Third, the design should facilitate discussion among stakeholders about the legal frameworks and ethical use of data, and address digital pollution by humanizing the experience of e-transformation.
Lastly, the design should help to transform the public sector’s role in empowering citizens to co-create and co-own public decisions and policies as well as to foster, protect and promote European values globally.

Evidence-based storytelling for design policymaking

We cannot risk taking a design-involved policy for granted. “Big business and government have acknowledged design as an enabling factor,” Anna Whicher said. “But there are still 70% of interviewed organisations that don’t use design.” According to Design in European Policy report, there were only 15 out of a total of 28 EU member states that included design in their national industry and innovation policies. Furthermore, design policy is not common at regional and local political scenes.

At the moment, the European Commission is revising and shaping its new design policies according to the new strategic agenda. As Anna Athanaopoulou suggests, design sectors need to hear about both good stories and concrete figures to justify the importance of design and convince policymakers to make design an integral part of the policy agenda.

All photos: Chuan Li