Electrifying Gathering - Design for Europe Summit 2016

By: Piotr Swiatek Date: 21/10/2016

‘Powering Innovation’ was the strapline of the 2016 Design for Europe Summit, held on 6 October in Tallinn, and the high energy was certainly palpable among over 200 delegates; not just because the event took place in a tastefully repurposed old power plant for the Estonian capital, but primarily because our current industrial revolution is powered by design and this is an exciting place to be right now, as was noted in the opening speech by Ellie Runcie, Future Programmes Director of Design Council, the leader of Design for Europe.

Design for Europe is a three-year programme catalysing design–driven innovation in business, the public sector and policy that is funded by the European Commission. It started as an ambitious awareness-raising campaign, but its results exceed that as evidenced by Dr Anna Whicher, PDR’s Head of Policy, in her impact evaluation and case studies of the project's journey in ten European countries. The programme has built a community of over 63,000 online users and 5,500 people have attended 92 events in 48 cities. Although the EU funding (€3.8m) comes to an end in December, it is up to us as members of the design community to propel the project into its new phase.

In his keynote, Antti Peltomaki, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission’s Enterprise and Industry DG reiterated the Commission's commitment to design-driven innovation in transforming the EU towards a more circular and smarter economy; and asserted that "60% of European companies already use design according to the Innobarometer survey”. The summit panel discussions then focused on four topics – Productivity and Performance, Design Skills, Innovation Ecosystems and Social Innovation; and at the end there were unrestricted debates during the ‘Open Spaces’ sessions. The issues of evaluation, impact, trust, cultural change, multidisciplinary, collaboration and user-engagement permeated throughout the discussions.

Here are the key insights I have chosen from this thought-provoking event:

- Design is when we stop guessing and start listening to citizens and entrepreneurs, where they live, work and develop their economic activity (Dr Graca Fonseca, Secretary of State for Administrative Modernisation, Portuguese Government)

- There is a shortage of design knowledge, that is why Google is investing in design with an ambition to make it a basic language, just as maths (Mustafa Kurtuldu, Design Advocate, Google) Portotyping and testing is crucial – you will either win or learn.

- IPR is so last season. Openness and collaboration are essential to help solve global problems faster (Dr Anne Stenros, Chief Design Officer, City of Helsinki)

- Having everyone taught the basic design skills and mind-set is equally important as having highly trained designers. (Design Skills Discussion Panel)

- Governments should lead by example when it comes to the application of design. (Dr Anna Whicher, Head of Policy, PDR )

- An equilibrium of all elements is crucial in building a well-functioning design innovation ecosystem. (Dr Anna Whicher, Head of Policy, PDR )

Naturally there were a lot of questions and concerns about the continuation of the Design for Europe platform, especially in the light of the looming Brexit. However, with the enthusiasm and collaborative spirit of the design community we can expect more shared experiences and joint projects designed to tackle both moving the economy forward and the challenging societal problems.