National Design Policy: difficulties, successes and how and why

Wishes from a panel discussion that took place on 17.10.2017 World Design Summit 2017 Conference!

Panel gathered together Ico-D representatives: 

  • Mariano Allesandro (Denmark), Head of future thinking and technology INDEX: Design to improve life
  • Rebecca Blake (United States), Treasurer ico-D
  • Peter Florentzos (Australia), DIA ambassador, Design institute of Australia
  • Arlene Gould (Canada), Strategic director, design industry advisor committee (DIAC)
  • Zachary Haris Ong (Malaysia), President ico-D
  • Kelvin Tan (Singapore), Associate, Design Singapore

Ico-D, International Council of Design, serves the worldwide community by being an international non-partisan and non-governmental representative voice for design. They represent the interests of professional designers in a responsible manner and define and increase awareness of professional standards and practices governing design practice. One thing they are doing as well is to support the development of design education (practice, theory and research). The Council’s vision, mission and core values are manifested through initiatives that promote and represent design as a medium for progressive change. ( 

Ico-D treasurer Rebecca Blake initialized the panel discussion by showing an outline comparison of different national strategies promoting design in a national context. Examples showed de-centralized (Finland), centralized (Korea), activist (United States) and depended (India) models. The models differed by governmental commitment and control of design practice. All the panelists underlined the fact that creating and having a design policy in a country depended entirely on their culture and there was not just one way of doing things. 

In the panel discussion about creating national design policy the speakers discussed problems, successes and methods they had been using in their respective countries regarding improvement of understanding and awareness of the use of design within business and industry. 

Regarding the example of failure in creating Australian national design policy the discussion started on how design is misunderstood as a profession because it is considered as art. Peter Florentzos told that it is very important to shift the position of design by defining its position in industry and business. One main problem in Australia for executing NPD (National Design Policy) was the frequent government changes and the new government undoing previous ones’ decisions. The aim of Australian NPD was to collect data on the value of design and this way prove its effect on every new governments. 

Canada on the other hand did not have a NPD yet but essential guidelines for it were in the process.  Matters that supported creating NPD in Canada were the strong and stable financial sector, high concentration of designers in companies and high amount of design education. Difficulties in executing NPD caused the size of the country, strong technology and engineering bias, which as Arlene Gould said as her own opinion, had led to distrust in using design as well as its benefits. Arlene therefore stated that developing a clear definition of design within industry sector and adding design in the curriculum of normal schools as well as business and engineering schools are matters of importance concerning Canada NPD. 

Malaysian representative Zachary Haris described an example of success regarding NPD creation in Malaysia. They had done a lot of work in communicating the value of design to policy makers and in e.g. changing the understanding of what a graphic design profession is and what graphic designers can do. Thus, the NDP was the next natural step for them. They had made many studies for the NPD and promoted the clear need for design professionals within the business sector, which has a lot of power in Malaysia. Their tips for succeeding with the NPD were that specific targets get funding and that a lot of campaigning in the government and writing of publications is needed.  

Singapore’s NPD was an example of getting it done. They had started with a blue print of 2 steps (regarding graphic designers) and now they have a version called Design2025 masterplan by DesignSingapore. Their NPD goal is to create innovation driven economy. They co-operate with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, which now sees design as one part of changing businesses. 

Additionally, two ways of executing NPD were discussed: top down and bottom up. Singapore’s representative Kelvin Tan said that in Singapore it had to be top down because there is no other way. Singapore is a very small country with not much land, no natural resources or agriculture. Due to this fact they need to be better than anybody else. Other things within NPD creation they had done were implementing Co-creating process to their work, having lot of workshops and improving design education. Masterplan2015 aims to provide a design profession pipeline, from pre-schools to university. 

In Denmark there is a functional welfare system and everybody has access to cozy living and culture. Their main issue with NPD was, how design can be used to improve the things that are already done well. One sector they have worked a lot with is the public sector. For example INDEX in co-operation with the Danish government have had a promotion campaign for companies in which “you can have a designer to come and help your company to redesign your business strategy with discount”. Their plan is to change an agricultural country into an idea country. 

INDEX’s goal is to look for how design can improve someone’s daily life and to look for phenomenal and strategic values in society. Education is part of NPD in Denmark as well. iNDEX has been involved with the future school reform and new education programs. They have wanted to promote design profession by using design methodologies in education for children 6-15 yrs. For example, they had done a project regarding innovative thinking and learning by asking the kids to tackle the refugee challenge and working the challenge together with the teachers. 

Regulation and laws: Creating NPD is linked to many things, which can make execution difficult. One is IPR. NPD has to deal with issues of design and copyright and while design as a profession has changed the copyright act has not.  

National Design Policy helps as a guideline to develop specific policies to use and practice design. It is always regional and national. Fundamental misunderstanding is usually in what designers do, but also that we, designers, do not communicate to policy makers what we do. 

Author: Noora Nylander, Lahti University of Applied Sciences