Oregon/by design research trip, November 2013

Learning from Scandinavia and the U.K

Summary: Through outreach to Design Wales I’m introduced to many of the design industry, educators, and promotion leaders in Europe. By visiting them in their cities I gain a deeper understanding of their missions, programs, strategies, and challenges. This allows me to compare and contrast their efforts relative to their geo-cultural settings. This face-to-face research greatly informs the Oregon/By Design initiative research, and will lead to a more advanced development process.

Oregon/By Design Mission: The mission of an Oregon Design Program and Strategies for Design Promotion is to leverage the design process, the education of design, how it’s promoted, and its statewide support to generate growth in the design industry, and for design to boost growth in the rest of the corporate sector. The policy will harness design across the broad sweep of disciplines (architecture, product design, advertising & public relations, engineering and technology, etc.), utilizing them statewide throughout Oregon’s diverse geo-cultural regions to stimulate greater economic, social, and environmental opportunities and strengthen Oregon’s brand worldwide

Fall Research Trip- Scandinavia and the UK

What I set out to do: It’s essential to the development of the Oregon/By Design initiative to research examples of other programs, policies, and organizations who use design education, promotion, support, its commercial industry to stimulate economic, social, and environmental opportunities. I was very fortunate to have established a professional relationship with Gavin Cawood, Operations Director, and Anna Whicher, lead researcher on design policy at Design Wales which is part of the National Centre for Product Design and Development Research (PDR) at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC). Design Wales is the epicenter for research and coordination of innovations in the design industry; primarily across Europe, but also in Asia, South America, and Far East. When I explained my work to develop the O/BD initiative they immediately understood the challenge I faced, and urged me to seek out people already engaged in advancing innovations in their national design promotion programs. They encouraged me to meet with the leaders of both national programs, but also leaders of collaboration throughout Europe, and globally. They validated my initial approach of reaching out to ‘think-ers & do-ers’ in Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. All of these countries had established mature programs, but have gone through the inevitable transformative stage of ‘program provider’ to national convener and facilitator for design service. By meeting and discussing their path to develop, implement, and re-envision their national program I would be better informed on shaping Oregon’s efforts. I wanted to understand both their mission, as well as the details of how they implemented their programs. I need to learn the relationship between their funding support, and how they measured their success (and learn from their challenges).

What I did: Through Design Wales, and other relationships locally and abroad, I established face-to-face meetings in Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. I also attended the Service Design Network’s 2013 Global Conference in Cardiff, Wales. The conference greatly enhanced my knowledge of the growing field of ‘service design’, and allowed me to connect with Gavin Cawood and Anna Whicher. It also provided fantastic networking opportunities. I met with leading design professionals, educators, design industry promotion organizations, industry leaders who utilize design.

What works well for other countries:

Finland- Incredible collaboration and connection between design education, industry/commercial interests, government support, and cultural identity. The value added by high quality, and market savvy design allows Finland to compete well above its geographic, limited population and resources. They’ve made a huge cultural and governance shift to achieving more with less. They’ve establish a high quality international branding of their products, and educational system.

Sweden-Probably the most sophisticated network of design thinking, design promotion, industry/commerce participation, and government involvement. They’re recognized internationally for their ability to tackle seemingly intractable problems with industrial pollution and resource depletion, and make solutions that achieve a healthier lifestyle. Design as a process, and their products as high quality outcomes allow them incredible exporting powers; both in services, systems, and products. SVID has made very important leaps forward in establishing an enlightened approach for connecting design thinking truly impactful across a broader spectrum and spheres of interests. They provide facilitation for the interest area, e.g. health care, or tourism.

Denmark- Like Finland, Denmark has truly established an international reputation far beyond its physical limitations. It is the benchmark of design quality, and a national brand. With popular support and community acceptance, they’ve created a standard of living that is the envy of the world. Design thinking and service design has translated throughout their industrial, commercial, retail, design professions, and education. They’ve tackled the key issue of design quality vs. economic determinism, and have found an elevated ‘sweet spot’. They now have such broad consensus between government, industry, education, and environmental stewardship that they’re exporting their expertise worldwide, and drawing the world to their doorstep.

Scotland- Thanks to Architecture + Design/Scotland they’ve shifted from the arbiters of design quality to the conveners of design thinking for the broader public good. They’ve created the Local Authority/Urban Design Forum (LAUDF) - a network for local authority practioners with an involvement in urban design to share ideas on current issues, learn from each other’s experiences, and build up resources from which everyone can benefit. The forum is led by participants, with support from A+D/S. They have two meetings annually; spring and fall. They draw a wide audience throughout Scotland (the last Forum had 36 local authorities participating), and from all scales of communities and regions. Local managers are supported by their Planning heads, with some funding through A+D/S. The events are also well attended by Scotland national governing agencies/stall. This sounds like the pilot project I’d identified in my grant proposal- and also emulates some of the features of Maurice Cox’s “Mayor’s Institute on Design”. I’ll need to follow up with what kinds of results the Forums have generated, and what kind of impact its having throughout Scotland.

What is not working well for other countries:

Finland- Ensuring that their investment in higher education (free for all students; foreign as well as domestic) returns dividends to Finland’s society, economy, and culture. Making advancements in sustainable industry before their natural environment is impacted beyond repair. There are grave concerns about natural resources depletion; forest land, over fishing, mineral extraction that degrades the environment.

Sweden- Their long, deliberate planning and implementation process is not able to respond quickly enough to demographic shifts; primarily in housing, infrastructure, and market driven higher costs. While planning for new housing is thoughtful, environmentally considerate, and inclusive of community input…it isn’t providing near enough affordable housing for the influx of newcomers or shifting population to urban centers.

Denmark- With such finite resources, how can Denmark continue to be a world leader in design? For them sustainability isn’t merely a life-style choice…it’s an economic, cultural, and environmental imperative. Global warming will most likely impact their physical landscape, so how can they begin to plan for resiliency?

Scotland- Moving from Planning to Placemaking- the limitation of design policy. There’s a growing desire to move towards a more democratic public engagement about what should be planned and built. The frustration with zoning and planning that eschews the qualitative aspects of community building. Examples throughout Scotland; Aberdeen, Bristol, Fife… where quantitative criteria only about efficiency of a public policy process, which has resulted in a ‘dumbing down’ of aesthetic goals. With information now so accessible to the public through social media there’s an emergence of a ‘post-professional’ age where the design professional can no longer simply command ‘design authority’ (“trust me…I’m a professional”). And yet, the local governments sometimes lack the ability, skills, experience to seek real public engagement, and allow critical feedback loops into the process. They cited the recent efforts in Orkney Island that brought together public, stakeholders, and design professionals and ‘lay people’ to really dig into their development opportunities. They felt these kinds of efforts should be more pursued in Scotland to ensure public leadership, stewardship, and consistent engagement based on a set of principles. This shift in participation, language in the process, providing useful data, and incorporating feedback loops will reinforce visionary leadership.

What did I learn relative to the O/BD grant?

Importance of collaboration

The power of facilitation and role of being the convener- e.g. Architecture + Design/Scotland’s Local Authority/Urban Design Forum (LAUDF)-. I see tremendous potential for Oregon/By Design through this kind of engaged, participatory, self-identified, and nationally (or State in our case) support program.

Establishing an ongoing network of relationships between design, industry, government, education, and the public at large- e.g. Aalto University, A + D/S and SVID The power of symbiotic relations between education, industry, community, and governance- e.g. Aalto University & Ornamo, SVID, and DDC The importance of a local to global cycle- reaching out, connecting, place-based, and informing-e.g. Aalto University & Cumulus, DesignWales, A + D/S Creating impactful, timely, and relevant civic engagement that’s informative, hands-on, and entertaining- e.g. Aalto University, SVID, DDC, A+D/S Relating the power of the design process, and its outcomes, across the full range of its disciplines (product, service, civic, craft-art, advertising & information technology, interiors, architecture & engineering)- e.g. Global Design Network, DDC, Design/Wales

What would be applicable to O/BD in the future:

Leveraging existing institutions (education, design industry, governmental, commerce) to explore shared interests, and seek un-common outcomes- the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Leveraging sharing/learning forums to explore areas of interests, and build strong networks for future collaboration. Foster peer-to-peer learning and networking. Establish feed-back loops that help track progress, challenges, and insights.

Creating truly impactful relationships across a broader spectrum (drawing together several spheres of interests) - then provide facilitation for the interest area (health care, resource-based commerce, product design, or tourism)… look for deeper issues, meanings, and assist the subject to frame the issues and synthesis strategies. Maybe the outcomes have measurable statistics, and maybe they have other tangible and qualitative outcomes. What promotion and information efforts already exist internally in Oregon, or where Oregon is already participating nationally and globally? How can these improve awareness of Oregon’s “Brand”? Conversely, how can Oregon’s design industry companies, educators, governance, and associations improve their effectiveness and foster greater global appreciation?