The Nine Key Learnings, co-created by the Danish Nesta with contributions from the Design for Europe consortium of partners, are the accumulated insights, observations and reflections collected throughout the three year Design for Europe programme funded by the European Commission. These common themes and principles, mirrored throughout this website, are supported with accompanying advice, case studies, methods and tools to aid those working within the design innovation ecosystem – from industry membership organisations, governmental institutions and design centres to design research organisations and universities. In other words, these lessons are aimed at those (people and organisations) who want to take a leading role in pushing design-driven innovation in their country, city or region. Here we present to you the Nine Key Learnings:

1. Connecting to a National Strategy

Connecting to a National Strategy is vital in encouraging awareness and investment in design-driven innovation projects.

Design drives innovation. Design creates value and promotes business growth. These are off-repeated statements that are backed up by data. In many cases however, this is not enough to encourage investment in design-driven innovation programmes. Design pioneers must have a broad perspective on how to present design and designers as a transformative factor and a key to a better and more prosperous future.

One way to achieve this is to link design initiatives with overriding national or regional strategies and challenges (for example local infrastructure, tourism, wind power, urbanisation, scaling companies, innovation etc.) by defining relevant issues, developing targeted initiatives and engaging a larger eco-system with a common goal of promoting the overall agenda. The approach may be either top-down or bottom-up, depending on the nature and make-up of the network.


  • Ensure the relevance of your initiative by connecting to a national strategy.
  • Be innovative and use design methods to identify where design can show large-scale changes as a basis for engaging in a conversation with new partners.
  • Define the openings that allow you to show what design can do, and subsequently showcase what you have achieved.
  • Interact with your ecosystem.


  • What are the regional and national goals and visions for business growth or solving societal challenges in general?
  • What are the most important political investments, strategies and actions?
  • What agendas are the most important for business, growth, innovations and development?
  • Can you address a specific problem, such as unemployment, to demonstrate the power of design-driven innovation?
  • What would be the right design actions or programmes to support overall goals and strategies?

Next steps: Create a country analysis about how design is being supported (see figure below). Look to national policy actions and smaller/regional programmes and initiatives to create a wider understanding about the value of design, and to help a specific ecosystem grow by design.

Related case study: How Luxembourg used design to connect to the national agenda for innovation and creative industries.
With existing data documenting the benefits of design, it was obvious that design should be incorporated into Luxembourg's political agenda. One specific initiative is the 'Creative Industries Cluster' at Luxinnovation which has received €750, 000 of funding.

2. Visions and capacity

Align your visions with realistic and achievable goals within the design ecosystem.

In many cases, there is a mismatch between what we want to achieve i.e. our mission, and an organisation's capacity to move things forward.

To strike the right balance, dreams should be big but also realistic. It is necessary to determine whether the people and organisations involved are capable of accomplishing the vision. To achieve real progress it is often helpful to start small – by mapping what already exists – and moving the process forward incrementally. A successful effort requires engaging the 'right people' and building on existing achievements and initiatives.


  • Keep your eye on the goal and keep it realistic.
  • Make sure you have the right representation of people from the design innovation ecosystems.
  • Connect the dots and build on existing initiatives.


  • What would you like to see happen - what is your dream?
  • Who is already committed?
  • What can be achieved based on the current commitment and initiatives?
  • Who do you need to engage with to accomplish the bigger vision?
  • How can you attract the right competencies and partners? What would motivate and inspire them?

Related case study: How Lithuania balanced a vision for design with national capacity.
In Lithuania, the ambitions are high but also realistic. A group of design pioneers approached the Ministry of Economy in June 2016 with a proposal which resulted in a data collection initiative, a series of design and business events with the Lithuania Design Forum and the launch of the DESIGN LT programme.

3. Building effective partnerships

Building successful partnerships will lay the foundation for strengthened cooperation towards design-driven innovation.

Two voices are better than one, and partnerships can have a far stronger impact. To be effective in creating a strong design innovation ecosystem, the partnership must be clearly defined and well established from the outset.

All the partners should be transparent about their individual agendas, motivations, opportunities, goals and the resources they can bring to the common project. These framework conditions should be written down and a discussion about how to deal with any issues that might rise along the way needs to be had.

Honesty is essential: if the common goal is at odds with any of the individual partners' goals, the partnership is unlikely to succeed.


  • Remember that mutual trust is key to successful partnerships.
  • Structure this stage of the initiative as a user-driven process.
  • Co-creation requires flexibility, creativity and patience from all involved.


  • Based on the organisational framework (time, skill and budget) and all the stakeholders' wishes and motivations, what are the common goals and your shared ambitions? Write them down in short, clear sentences.
  • What internal and external stakeholders are important to consider in formulating a shared ambition?
  • What specific steps will you need to take to achieve initial goals?
  • What are the short-term common objectives?
  • What are the individual partners' roles and responsibilities?

Related case study: How Bulgaria built and used effective partnerships to create a national awareness-raising campaign.
To increase design awareness in Bulgarian enterprises, the ARC Fund engaged in partnerships with influential bodies to identify data indicators to capture the economic impact of design, with the aim of convincing high-level political decision-makers in Bulgaria that design belongs on the policy agenda.

4. Re-use and make it your own

Research and investigate the current design ecosystem for actions which may provide the answers or solutions to a new problem.

Across Europe, we have reached a point where a wide range of national design policies, design centres, design support programmes and tools have already been developed and implemented. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, it is often much more productive to be inspired and learn from existing best practices.

However, a simple 'copy-paste' approach will not do. To be successful, design promotion initiatives have to match the local context, and the people responsible for implementing it need to understand and be capable of delivering it. For instance, a successful design centre utilising a material lab does not necessarily mean that a material lab will be relevant in your country.


  • Learn from others - but don't copy them mindlessly
  • Let yourself be inspired by other programmes and initiatives then adapt and integrate them into your own context and system.
  • Contrast and compare countries within context.


  • What countries inspire you in the field of design? Why?
  • What are your strategic goals?
  • Who has walked down the same path before you?
  • What can you learn from their experience?
  • How can you translate best practices into practices that match your own context?
  • What actions and results will progress you towards your goal?

Related caste study: How Greece successfully adopted design-thinking principles to develop a national design centre.
In the development of the Hellenic Design Centre (HDC) in Greece, expertise from the Design for Europe network, as well as the experiences and best-practice cases from other European design centres proved invaluable.

5. Why a design policy?

A design policy should be created with an end goal in mind, ensuring its benefit and necessity to a country or region.

A design policy is not a goal in itself. For some countries or regions, the path towards a design policy is very long so before deciding that this is the ultimate goal or even the place to start, you should consider the reasons for having one.

It is always relevant to consider whether the goal should be to develop an isolated design policy or to integrate design into other policies - or of course a combination of both.


  • Make it a priority to identify and promote design case studies from various industries and the public sector.
  • Make sure to highlight the positive impact for businesses or public-sector organisations of using design
  • Develop design support together with users as a way of stimulating maturity.


  • Why are you considering a design policy?
  • Do you need a design policy in order to reach your goal?
  • What would be the ideal content of your design policy?
  • Should it be an isolated design policy? Or should/could design be integrated into other growth policies, for example policies for innovation or industry?
  • What kind of action plan would help you move towards a design policy?

Related case study: how the DeEP project was developed to help evaluate design policy across Europe.
The DeEP project tangibly influenced design policy in four European countries by advocating the importance of the evaluation process. For example, work with the regional government of Lombardy in Italy led to the publication of their 'Design 2020' report and new design policy.

6. Design maturity

Design maturity relates to the level at which design is being used to strengthen innovation.

When pushing the design innovation agenda it is important to have a clear idea of the level of design maturity among businesses and public sector organisations to understand what the demand looks like and/or how it should be stimulated.

In addition, it is of great value to understand whether the level of maturity varies among industries, and the levels at which businesses and public organisations are ready to explore the potential of investing in design-driven innovation.

If the level of design maturity is low, the first priority may be to promote the relevance of design across a variety of different industries and to communicate various ways of using design to improve services in the public sector.


  • Make it a priority to identify and promote design case studies from various industries and the public sector.
  • Make sure to highlight the positive impact for businesses or public-sector organisations of using design.
  • Develop design support together with users as a way of stimulating maturity


  • What is your impression of the design maturity in your country?
  • What numbers do you have to back up that assessment?
  • How can you enhance the level of design maturity? Through activities aimed at raising awareness? Through activities aimed at stimulating the use of design? Or both?

Related case study: How the Malta Business Bureau (MBB) played a vital role in stimulating innovation and building capacity for design among SMEs in the service sector.
Recognising the need to address local design needs, the MBB embarked on a new pilot initiative comprised of a series of workshops targeting 15 local companies from various service sectors.

7. Building design capacity

It is necessary to balance supply and demand in order for a design society to succeed.

If you want to build a design society where business and public-sector organisations use design to drive innovation, it is not enough to stimulate the demand for design. You also need to make sure that the supply side is ready to meet the growing demand.

By 'supply' we mean designers who can lead and facilitate innovation processes in collaboration with clients, including civil servants, CEO's and R&D, marketing and sales staff.

With the growing demand for design, businesses and public-sector organisations are looking for designers who are trained in (new-generation) design competencies such as UX, service design, strategic design, design thinking and co-creation.

Furthermore, it is important to note that some designers are also entrepreneurs and thus an essential target group for efforts to strengthen entrepreneurship and the start-up community.


  • Introduce design support programmes that enhance both design maturity and supply.
  • Prepare new graduates for the demands from industry and the public sector.
  • Map your design capacity.


  • What is your impression of the design maturity in your country?
  • What numbers do you have to back up that assessment?
  • How can you enhance the level of design maturity? Through activities aimed at raising awareness? Through activities aimed at stimulating the use of design? Or both?

Related case study: How Estonian design policy stimulated design supply and demand.
The launch of the Estonia's first design support programme: Design Bulldozer was a result of the quick progression from design policy to implementation and practice.

8. The power of data and evidence

Don't just say it, show it. Use data collection and analysis to illustrate any insights or results to engage policymakers.

Many business leaders and policymakers are trained to work with quantitative data. Numbers are the foundation of all their decisions, therefore you need to engage them in this way.

Gathering data in the field of design involves mapping the design sector and the use of design across businesses and public-sector organisations. For example, you might collect data on the number of design graduates, the size and characteristics of design consultancies and the number of designers employed. It may also involve measuring the impact of design on growth, job creation and the efficiency of public services.

The ability to document the added value of design is important, and many design organisations have already carried out analyses. We want to stress the importance of collaboration and bench-marking across national borders. Sharing findings and results is a quick and cost-effective way to generate more knowledge and improve the value, impact and service quality of design.


  • Consider what you want to show and what data you need to get your point across.
  • Remember that data collection takes time. A lack of data is no excuse for not getting started.
  • Don't forget the importance of qualitative data.
  • To make your data as useful to policymakers as possible, always seek to collect data that can be benchmarked with other countries.


  • What do you need to prove? And to whom?
  • What data already exists in your own country and other countries? Are the data sets comparable?
  • Who are the experts, and how can you involve them?
  • How can you start small by showing results?
  • What questions can you add to existing reliable surveys aimed either at the design field or at related fields (e.g. employment, GDP, innovation or technology)?
  • What existing tools can you use to map and to measure the use of design?

Related case study: How data was utilised to evaluate design innovation and investment in Brazil.
A high quality and volume of data was collected throughout the Paraná Innovador Programme in order to thoroughly review the design, management and innovation practices of businesses in the state of Paraná. By analysing the data, it was possible to build a complete picture of the design practice, management and performance of companies within Brazil.

9. Funding

Simply put, who is going to pay for it all?

Funding covers two themes. The first is related to funding for design support, the other to the overall effort of pushing design higher up on the regional or national innovation agenda.

Resources are limited all over Europe, and the phrase "there will be no new money" is often heard. In European countries, there is an increasing tendency to integrate design support into innovation funds. From a strategic point of view, it makes sense to support design-driven innovation with innovation funding rather than establishing new funding earmarked just for design.

It takes considerable time and effort to lobby and push design into the political agenda. As stated under previous learnings, it is virtually impossible to make progress as a single player.


  • Identify the main funds for innovation and lobby to have them include design.
  • One plus one equals three! Pool your time and money to maximise your impact.


  • What funds are available to promote innovation in your country?
  • Does it seem feasible to integrate design into existing innovation funding programmes?
  • Whom do you need to engage to make this happen?
  • Is there any EU funding available that matches your purpose?
  • Do you have a clear picture of the time and money needed to move things forward?

Spain launched a national programme for funding innovation in SMEs. Some initiatives include company subsidies to encourage companies to pursue design-based innovation.

Download the Nine Key Learnings and Ten Recommendations (Pdf).

For further information please contact: Design for Europe programme team (; Christina Melander at the Danish Design Centre(; and Sonja Dahl at Nesta (

We welcome your feedback.