Design is increasingly valuable to policymakers as a key driver of economic growth and a means of innovation in both private and public sectors.

2010 saw design included for the first time in European Commission innovation policy, transforming Europe’s design policy landscape. Not only is there now an Action Plan for Design-driven Innovation at a European level but a number of European Member States, including Denmark, Estonia, France and Latvia, have also developed specific design action plans. In addition, 15 of the 28 European Member States have explicitly included design in their national innovation policy.

15 of the 28 European Member States have explicitly included design in their national innovation policy

There is also a growing awareness of design as a factor driving innovation at regional and local levels, with a number of regions integrating design into policy, including Flanders (Belgium), South Bohemia (Czech Republic), Central Finland, Central Macedonia (Greece) and Wales (UK), as well as an increasing number of design managers working in local public authorities.

As part of their Innovation Union policy, the European Commission has formally broadened the remit of innovation to embrace design. The growing recognition of design’s role in creating economic growth is reflected in the European Commission Action Plan for Design-driven Innovation which states:

‘A more systematic use of design as a tool for user-centred and market-driven innovation in all sectors of the economy, complementary to R&D, would improve European competitiveness.’

The European Commission is also encouraging every European region to develop a Smart Specialisation Strategy and in 2014, the creative industries featured in 56 of over 200 regional strategies with design explicitly highlighted in nine of these, including Flanders, Central Denmark, Catalonia and Swietokrzyskie. Design is not only a significant component of the creative industries in terms of employment and gross value added, but also because it has a big impact on other industry sectors too.

Helsinki Design Lab, Finland

Policymakers can play a role in encouraging companies to use design more strategically. The Design Maturity Ladder assesses how strategically companies apply design and investigations have been conducted in Austria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Ireland and Sweden.

Design maturity in European companies (Source: Sharing Experience Europe)

On average in the six countries, 33% of enterprises do not use design, 22% use design as styling, 30% use design as a process and 15% use design strategically. Danish and Swedish enterprises use design most strategically – at 23% and 22% respectively – while Austria and Estonia have the least proportion of businesses using design in a strategic way – at 9% and 7% respectively.

Governments can encourage companies to use design through design support programmes such as mentoring, subsidy and tax credit schemes. In 2014, 12 EU countries had design support programmes in operation: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK.

In terms of design policy, there are a number of trends we anticipate. We expect that policymakers across Europe will integrate design more holistically within innovation policies as well as smart specialisation strategies and some will develop design action plans. We also anticipate that governments will recognise design as an enabler of innovation in multiple domains such as health, social, environmental, digital and transport policy and also as a method for inclusive policymaking.