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Design policy aims to accelerate the use and acceptance of design in innovation policies. Here, we introduce you to design policy and begin to explore how, and to what extent, it is being implemented by policymakers and governments across Europe. 

Actions for design support can be traced back to the beginning of the 19th century. The first professional craft businesses in Sweden and Finland raised the issue of design as an economic asset to be protected by patent legislation (Bitard & Basset 2008). Since then, objectives and types of governmental actions for design have changed according to the understanding of design itself. From looking at design as an aid to improving industrial artefacts and the aesthetics of objects (including elements connected to their communication), to design as a process and approach for creative problem solving and setting (Mortati et al.  2016). 
 

Design policy can be defined as the process by which governments translate their political vision into programmes and actions in order to develop national design resources and encourage their effective use in the county

Raulik-Murphy and Cawood, 2009

In recent years the European Commission has defined design as "a driver of user-centred innovation" (EC 2009), advocating for its inclusion in a wide strategy to foster non-technological innovation within the private and the public sectors. By the time these guidelines were drawn, a fragmented landscape of initiatives and programmes for design support has emerged in Europe. Some countries have implemented a national design policy (Denmark was the first in 1997), in line with what Raulik-Murphy and Cawood (2009) defined as "the process by which governments translate their political vision into programmes and actions in order to develop national design resources and encourage their effective use in the country." 

The complex European reality, however, is that in the majority of European governments design is still not directly addressed by dedicated investment at a national scale. It is often tacitly and marginally supported in innovation policies and mostly at regional and local levels (with Italy a notable example). What becomes apparent then when studying the ecosystem of design support, is the need for both national and regional/local actions to coexist. 

 

Design policy actions aim at sharing a set of rules, activities and processes to support design through the reinforcement of design capabilities at all levels of the policy cycle.

Design in European Policy

Building on this, an appropriate framework to study design support should look more widely at design policy actions, that is governance actions that "aim at sharing a set of rules, activities and processes to support design through the reinforcement of design capabilities at all levels of the policy cycle" (DeEP, 2014). This definition attempts to acknowledge the complexity of design support through a qualitative process of analysis and methodical understanding. 

Though still in its infancy worldwide, the following projects should be noted for having pioneered the design support process:

  • The SEE Project has developed a Design Policy Monitor to map the integration of design in innovation policies across Europe.
  • DeEP (Design in European Policy) has defined an approach to evaluate design policies effectiveness.
  • The Design Policy Lab at Politecnico di Milano, in partnership with Design for Europe, is currently developing the Design Policy Beacon, a comprehensive evidence-based online resource for understanding design support in defferent European ecosystems. 

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