World Design Summit 2017

By: Piotr Swiatek Date: 31/10/2017

“All people deserve to live in a well-designed world.”


The Montreal Design Declaration (MDD), signed at the World Design Summit, is a joint position statement of 14 international design and non-design organisations aiming to harness the transformative capacities of design for the global advancement of economy and social wellbeing. The signatories include UNESCO, ico-D and Cumulus, and also BEDA and SDN, of which PDR are members.
The declaration recognises a diverse range of contexts where design can have an impact and it adopts a broad definition of design as:

·      A driver of innovation,
·      A driver of growth in SMEs,
·      An agent for sustainability,
·      A technology enabler,
·      A change trigger and facilitator,
·      A driver of the development of smart cities,
·      An agent for risk reduction and resilience.

The idea of the declaration was born in 2015 in Gwangju (South Korea) during the International Design Congress “Eeum: Design Connects”. Since then, experts have been working in four Working Committees focused on the economy, culture, environment and society to propose an action plan for a continued international collaboration of design stakeholders.

This declaration calls for governments, professional and educational bodies, designers and the public to work together for design advocacy, the enhancement of design education, the creation of global design standards and metrics, and the development of design policies. Design in government and more specifically for policy has a strong presence across the document and there are three actions proposed that are specific to design policy. These are to:

1.     Collect and examine models of design policies at all levels of governance and engage with government officials to communicate the value of a strategic approach to design; create a database of good practice and benchmark indicators; develop formats for implementation of advanced design methodologies within government, government services, and public procurement.
2.     Establish a standing international advisory group, composed of signatory entities, to serve as a resource for government, industry, business, NGOs and other stakeholders.
3.     Establish dedicated mechanisms for ongoing, structured collaboration between signatories and internationally recognised UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, New Urban Agenda, Paris Climate Accord and the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, and similar frameworks.

It is the first design action plan on a global scale that calls for the development of design policies and a better integration of design approaches in government, public service and procurement. Interestingly, at almost the same time the members of the World Design Organization (WDO) declared the World Design Agenda – this is an action plan for how design can contribute to the achievement of the objectives outlined in the United Nations’ 2030 development agenda. There are however no references to design policy in the WDO agenda. The Montreal Design Declaration also invokes the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals; therefore, it would be constructive to see a more coherent voice of the design community and collaboration between the signatories of both documents.
Design policy in the Montreal Design Declaration:
·      “Recognize the need for strategic leadership on design matters at local, regional, national and international levels and with this, the need for governance models, political agendas and policy to take design into account”;
·      “Design enables all aspects of society, public and private, governmental and non-governmental, civil society and individual citizen, to transition through change (i.e. austerity, demographic changes, shifts in services) to deliver a better quality of life for all citizens.”
·      “Development of Design Policies: to be applied at the local, regional, national and international levels.”
·      “Recognition of Design: by leaders, decision makers and influencers across all sectors of society, of the value of design, and need to foster and implement design for the greater common good.”
·      “[an intent to:] To develop a world design agenda, whereby this Declaration is a first invitation to join in common cause to support design.”
·      “[an intent to:] To influence and support decision making, locally and globally, on policy and resources;”

For me, as a design policy researcher, it is exciting to see such a strong position of government-focused design in the declaration. The increasing role of design in the policy domain was the topic of the reflections that Dr Anna Whicher and I shared during the congress in Montreal and this declaration seems to confirm the trends that we presented.

The conference itself formed part of the Summit alongside the Expo and the Meeting of the design organisations. It attracted over 3,500 participants from around the globe and 650 speakers spoke across diverse design disciplines in six overarching topics: Design for Earth, Design for Participation, Design for Transformation, Design for Beauty, Design for Extremes and Design for Sale?.

“Design is a driver of innovation and competition, growth and development, efficiency and prosperity.”


I found two presentations particularly interesting. Firstly, that of Pritzker Prize laureate, Alejandro Aravena, who shared his perspective and learnings from the participatory design process. “Participatory design is not the romantic, hippy approach of ‘let’s do it together’ and it is not about giving pencils to people asking them to draw the city of the future”, said Aravena. It is an important reminder not to perceive design as a magic concept. Designers are experts in design and users are experts in their experience; participatory design does not mean that people should design for themsleves but be engaged continously and thoroughly throughout the design process on clear and fair terms.

Alejandro Aravena on participatory design:

1.     It is about giving information and communicating the constraint to the people.
2.     Get the right question (not the right answer).
3.     Establish priorities (you never have enough time of money to do everything)
4.     Add ‘People’ to public-private partnerships.
5.     Guarantee continuity of the vision (political timing vs. real-life timing).
6.     Get social license to operate (legal vs. legitimate).
7.     Give pride of authorship to your users – open, incomplete systems.

The second presentation I would like to highlight is the one of Rhonda Geraghty, who presented the results of her doctoral research looking to systematise the understanding of design in government. Rhonda spent a couple of months in our Policy team at PDR back in 2014 to collect the data for her research and so I was really curious to see the results. She presented her Design in Government – Design Augmentation Model (DIG-DAM) which takes a holistic perspective of design in all its facets, its various implementation modes and the areas of government where impact is presented. I hope that this theoretical concept will advance the research carried out within the field of design policy and also facilitate a more comprehensive use of design in government.

I am enthusiastically looking forward to further collaborating on an international scale and contributing to achieving the MDD's ambitions for design in government, public policy and services.