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Background

Italy is world renowned for excellence in design. However, when looking at how companies actually use design, the picture portrayed by the Innobarometer survey is mixed. On the one hand, Italian companies are among the most likely in Europe to say that design is used as a stylistic finishing touch. On the other hand, Italian companies are also most likely to say that they do not use design at all. This makes challenging the entrenched assumption of design as styling and repositioning it as a tool for strategy and policy particularly difficult:
 
Through Design for Europe we have been raising awareness of design as lever for innovation not just as styling and form. We have been conducting activities to enhance the understanding of design at national level, regional level and at city level. The debate on design and policy is fragmented in Italy and this was the key challenge we sought to tackle. Further, it is not usual to connect design and policy. Design for Europe has been the best opportunity to kick start this debate.”
Dr Marzia Mortati, Research Fellow, Department of Design, Politecnico di Milano, Italy
 

The debate on design and policy is fragmented in Italy and this was the key challenge we sought to tackle. Further, it is not usual to connect design and policy. Design for Europe has been the best opportunity to kick start this debate.

Dr Marzia Mortati, Research Fellow, Department of Design, Politecnico di Milano, Italy

The shift in this understanding from design as the final step in the innovation process to design being holistically integrated into every stage of the innovation process is permeating multiple levels of governance through Design for Europe:
 
The two important issues have become clear. On the one hand, design is becoming a horizontal competence within larger topics that everybody, from citizens to policy-makers, will need to learn in the future. On the other hand, there is a growing awareness of policies that are supporting the development of design as a strategic asset in our territory as well as how design itself can become a tool for building public policies”.
Matteo Brambilla, Rena, Milano

 
 

How Design for Europe helped

Alongside ongoing advocacy efforts, Design for Europe delivered a number of events in Italy. One of the most influential was Design-driven Innovation In Food Manufacturing at EXPO Milano in June 2015. 

At EXPO Milano, Design for Europe brought together leading figures from FoodDrinkEurope, Barilla and Nestlé to discuss design-driven innovation in the food industry. Economic and population growth combined with social and technological developments have boosted global food production, consumption and waste. This represents both challenges and opportunities for design in the European food industry particularly in terms of new markets and sustainable business models.
 
One of the most important drivers for innovation in the food sector is pleasure. This is what Italy is an example of, and what design could contribute to.”
Beate Kettlitz , Director of Food Policy, Science and R&D at FoodDrinkEurope
 
Conventionally, the role of design in the food sector has been restricted to packaging and branding rather than user needs analysis and new business models. The notion of aligning user needs with market capabilities was a recurrent theme at the event.

I believe design is about understanding people. If you don’t understand who you are designing for, you will never achieve something they will ultimately desire.

Emily Boniface, Designer, Nestlé

 
I believe design is about understanding people. If you don’t understand who you are designing for, you will never achieve something they will ultimately desire.”
Emily Boniface, Designer, Nestlé
 

Design is about changing the mindset of an organisation. It means going from a traditional way of doing business to a new way that truly understands the problems of users and designs the best possible solutions for them.

Victoria Spadaro-Grant, Chief R&D and Quality Officer, Barilla

The event sought to demonstrate that innovation processes are not always liner and that a problem may not be completed understood from the outset. The strength of design is to manage more unpredictable innovation processes and involving staff from all levels of the company, as well as users, in co-creating the solutions.
 
Design is about changing the mindset of an organisation. It means going from a traditional way of doing business to a new way that truly understands the problems of users and designs the best possible solutions for them.”
Victoria Spadaro-Grant, Chief R&D and Quality Officer, Barilla
 

 

Outcomes

  • €300K investment in design-related programme
  • 15 young designers coached in design-thinking
  • 4 Design for Europe events held in Italy over past three years

The success of the EXPO Milano event paved the way for the first high level meeting bringing together the Regional Government of Lombardy, the Ministry of Research and Education and an array of stakeholders at the Design and Policy-making roundtable in June 2016.
 
“For the first time, we were able to kick off an informed discussion on design and policy in Italy with key decision-makers. We were able to involve policy-makers and beneficiaries in formulating policy actions.”
Dr Beatrice Villari, Assistant Professor, Department of Design, Politecnico di Milano, Italy

Design and public policy are normally kept apart however, thanks to Regione Lombardia, Design for Europe, and Politecnico di Milano we’ve had an opportunity to reflect on the intersections and possible connections between these two worlds.

Annibale D’Elia, former Director, Youth Policy and Social Citizenship, Puglia Region

 
“Design and public policy are normally kept apart however, thanks to Regione Lombardia, Design for Europe, and Politecnico di Milano we’ve had an opportunity to reflect on the intersections and possible connections between these two worlds. This is an interesting perspective for many reasons. First of all because the world is getting more complex, and it is important to spend public money wisely. Second, because the energy of citizens are playing an increasingly important role and the resources of institutions are diminishing so new ways to engage new energies are needed”.
Annibale D’Elia, former Director, Youth Policy and Social Citizenship, Puglia Region

“The Lombardy Region has created a dedicated office and group for design, “Third Sector, Fashion, Design, and Tourism”. Since three years this supports design and creativity, as this area is considered crucial for innovation, competitiveness and attractiveness of the region, and the city.”
Pietro Lenna, Director, Third Sector, Fashion, Design and Tourism
 
As a result of continuous engagement, Politecnico di Milano supported the Department of Economic Development in the Lombardy Region to implement a new design support programme at a value of €300,000 to support young designers to bring a new idea all the way to market. The programme Next Design Innovation selected 15 designers under the age of 35 and coached them through the design process from idea generation, concept development and user insights through to prototype development and testing in the market with users.

Expert design mentors provided advice on materials selection, technical engineering, manufacturing processes and user testing methods. The product prototypes were showcased at Milan Design Week in April 2016 promoted by the Region of Lombardy.

 
“This programme has kick-started a larger process of collaboration and discussion around the possible contribution of design to policy as well as politics, where we hope to cooperate more in the future with the Design Policy Lab at Polimi.”
Dr Stefano Maffei, Associate Professor, Department of Design, Politecnico di Milano, Italy
 

Photos from EXPO Milano 2015