Following on from Design for Europe's commitment to support design-led innovation in Lithuania Audronė Drungilaitė, CEO of Lithuanian Design Forum, reflects on the current state of design in the Baltic state.

What does the design landscape look like in Lithuania currently? There are some high-level education institutions training design industry professionals. There is a national design award and an annual Design Week has been running for more than ten years. Design also receives some financial support from the Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Culture, and is promoted by small and medium-sized enterprises.

Lithuania is one of the few EU countries that has no design policy. However, things are set to change.

But according to the 2015 Design Policy Monitor report from the European Commission, Lithuania is one of the few EU countries that has no design policy. This however is set to change – at the beginning of October the Ministry of Culture in Lithuania officially announced that design will be integrated into the strategy of National Cultural Politics. And in September 2015 the capital of Lithuania hosted two events: Vilnius Innovation Forum (VIF) titled Innovation Drift, and Design for Innovative Business.

Highlights from the Vilnius Innovation Forum

VIF was the biggest ever high-level innovation meeting in the Baltics and aimed to bring together entrepreneurs and business with public policy decision makers, scientists and researchers to discuss the state of innovation in Europe and beyond.

In it's second year the event attracted nearly 500 visitors – and provided a platform for more than 30 leading innovative thinkers, business leaders, policymakers and scientists from a wide range of organisations, including Mars One, World Economic Forum, CERN, Google, World Intellectual Property Organization, LinkedIn and many others.

The event included a science and technology exhibition with more than 30 exhibits, an international networking event and a two-day conference. The conference was divided into four sections: future business, creative industries, technology and economy.

One of the goals was to improve the level of knowledge about design-led innovation. Marius Skarupskas, the Vice-Minister of Economy, believes that successful development and implementation of innovative ideas to a large extent depend not only on the financial support of the state but also a conducive legal environment and public support.

Design for Innovative Business

The Design for Innovative Business conference was set up to foster new collaborations between SMEs and the creative industries. The Design Sector Feasibility Study, which explored the creation of a Lithuanian design policy, was presented alongside its recommendations. The were also sessions on national financial support opportunities and success stories of individual business. One example came from local bakery Biržų Duona, who increased the sales of one of its product lines by 340% after working with design professionals to redesign the packaging – this story particularly resonated with the audience and provoked an interesting discussion.

Biržų Duona's redesigned packaging

The keynote presentation by Robin Edman, President of the Bureau of European Design Associations (BEDA) and CEO of SVID, the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation, emphasised the importance of design as a tool to create a better future, adding value when taking on major challenges and solving problems in both business and the public sector. He stressed that consumers and users should always be the starting point for designers and managers when exploring new opportunities in the innovation process. Design is always about people and their needs!

"Strategic design can make a huge impact and make SMEs five times more creative, employ more people, export more and last but not least more than 50% more profitable than businesses that do not use design. However, investments in design sometimes are perceived to be too expensive for SMEs. Therefore companies need to broaden their perspective and view design not just an expense but rather as an investment tool that will be crucial to achieving better results," said Edman.

Large and medium scale companies are successfully using EU structural funds and national level financial support. But small enterprises with around 4-10 employees cannot compete at the same level.

Lithuania is not alone in that large and medium scale companies are successfully using EU structural funds and national-level financial support. But small enterprises with around 4-10 employees cannot compete at the same level – the application and necessary reporting are still too complicated and these companies cannot guarantee a high return on investment. These companies are still waiting for a financial instrument that could support enterprises to invest in using design for product and service development, but the scheme is not confirmed yet.

Both events were free of charge and organised by the Ministry of Economy and Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA) with support from EU funds.

A new strategy

Two ministries are responsible for design in Lithuania. The Ministry of Economy has a connection with design in that their remit is to support business competitiveness as well as intellectual property. But design is also one of many areas the Ministry of Culture is responsible for. The official announcement from the Ministry of Culture in Lithuania that design will be involved into the strategy of National Cultural Policy is a huge step forward.

The Minister of Culture, Šarūnas Birutis, stressed four ways of developing the design field:

  1. Improve basic knowledge about design in present day society
  2. Strengthen cooperation between different sectors
  3. Broaden the image of design
  4. Encourage design-led innovations

These guidelines for developing the design field also emphasise the need to explore the demand for the establishment of a Lithuanian Design Council and a Design Museum by looking at case studies in other countries.

Collaborating with Design for Europe

A lack of design policy creates obstacles to the consistent and purposeful development of the design industry and the ability to reach its goals. Lithuania has observed design activity across Europe and is keen to learn from the wider knowledge that exists. It has a clear ambition to move forward more confidently and to embed design at government and policy level. The timing is right to showcase best process and raise the profile of how design can play a role in transforming the innovation capacity of Lithuania.

The opportunity for us to partner with Design for Europe and have them support us with this goal is a positive and timely one. We very much welcome their support and are committed to a long term co-operation with Design for Europe partners Nesta, Politecnico di Milano and Danish Design Centre. As part of this journey we are also excited to share our experiences and will open up this opportunity to local and regional networks, including the surrounding Baltic regions.

The main approach is to work directly and identify key areas where the joint partners can provide suitable guidance, support and signposting. New approaches will be explored to raise the profile of design in innovation and highlight areas for future investment. All results will be presented as we progress. We are looking forward to this opportunity.