The enthusiasm was palpable as 220 delegates representing industry associations, design centres, public services, government and the creative industries gathered in Brussels this week. The Design for Europe summit brought together representatives from almost every EU member state to explore, debate and co-create ideas for European Growth by Design.

Boxes mark the entrance to SQUARE in Brussels where the summit was held

A number of themes were addressed during the course of the day but there were three main calls to action from the speakers: getting Chief Design Officers into the boardrooms of major European companies, training European Commission officials in design methods and positioning design as a differentiator for products and services in a hyper-globalised world.

Watch our video taster of the summit

Watch our video taster of the summit

Getting Chief Design Officers in the boardroom

Anne Stenros, Design Director at KONE, challenged the audience by asking: “Where are all the Chief Design Officers in European companies?” Chief Design Officers in the US are taking their seats in the boardrooms of the most progressive companies but the same is not widespread in Europe.

Nevertheless, we had two Chief Design Officers (CDOs) in the room, Rogier van der Heide, CDO at Zumtobel Group and Stefano Marzano, CDO at Electrolux Group (formerly CDO at Philips) shared their experiences of the importance of having board-level support for design.

Panel discussion featuring (L to R) Rogier van der Heide (Zumtobel), Stefano Marzano (Philips), Professor Lou Yongqi (Tongji University) and Ezio Manzini (University of the Arts London)

John Mathers, CEO of the Design Council, spoke about his recent meeting with the Chief Design Officer at IBM who are currently hiring a large number of designers and training 5,000 staff members in design thinking.

Training European Commission officials in design methods

John called for the European Commission to follow IBM’s example and train EU officials in design methods. This was echoed by Deborah Dawton, CEO of the Design Business Association who with the European House of Design Management is developing a toolkit for the public sector and civil service training.

We are not trying to turn public sector workers into designers but into design managers.

Deborah Dawton
CEO, Design Business Association

Christian Bason, CEO of the Danish Design Centre, emphasized the need for the design community to speak with one voice in Europe when promoting the use of design for public sector renewal.

Design in the public sector and policymaking

These clear themes emerged in the afternoon session where Ask Agger, CEO of Workz, facilitated an interactive workshop to explore how to accelerate design-driven innovation in Europe.

The 220 audience members self-organised into clusters in their area of interest – business, public sector or policymaking – to discuss challenges and share experiences. Delegates discussed how design can enhance citizen participation in the policy process and how design can be valued in public procurement – debates which will be continued on the Design for Europe website.

Design as a differentiator in a hyper-globalised world

In the context of the hyper-complex, hyper-competitive and hyper-connected environment, for Anne Stenros, “it’s not about B2B anymore but H2H – human to human or heart to heart”. As a method that advocates empathy at its core, design should be central to the business ethos of small and large companies across Europe.

The European Commission officials, Bonifacio García-Porras, Head of Unit of Innovation Policy for Growth and Antti Peltomäki, Deputy Director-General of DG GROW, quoted the news hot off the press from the Innovation Union Scoreboard 2015 that top innovation leaders like the US, Japan and South Korea continue to outperform the EU in innovation metrics. However, they also highlighted that design has untapped potential for creating value for the user in a modern European economy.

The panel discussion, chaired by Robin Edman, CEO of SVID and the incoming President of BEDA, debated the European design differentiator versus design in China. While there is a temptation to believe that European design competitiveness is founded on our cultural history, we must look forward in a hyper-globalised world concluded Professor Lou Yongqi, Dean of the College of Design & Innovation at Tongji University in China and Professor Ezio Manzini, Chair of Design for Social Innovation at the University of the Arts London.

To stimulate demand for design among SMEs, the European Commission has launched a tender to train SME intermediaries in design. This initiative will coordinate with Design for Europe to build capacity for design in business development organisations.

Fernando Laposse serves drinks in his handmade sugar glasses

The event was not only a feast for the mind but also for the senses with young designer, Fernando Laposse, serving up the evening drinks in his innovative edible glasses made from spun sugar infused with colours.

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