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Design for Public Good

Published in Member News
30 April 2013


On 30th April, members of the SEE Platform (Sharing Experience Europe) published a new report, Design for Public Good, encouraging the European Union and its member states to adopt design-led innovation to create the next generation of public services and policy that can meet the pressing demands of the future.

The report, authored by the UK Design Council, Danish Design Centre, Design Wales and Aalto University, Finland and with a joint foreword by UK Minister David Willetts (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) and Danish Minister Annette Vilhelmsen (Ministry of Business and Growth) - looks at the potentially huge gains design methodology can bring to policymaking as well as services. Design for Public Good describes the key benefits of design thinking for government as follows:

- Design-led innovation is a joined-up process, with no inefficient handover from analysis to solution to implementation

- Rather than jumping straight to expensive and risky pilots, the design process tests iteratively, starting with low-cost, simple models (prototypes) and designing out risk with each new version

- Rather than disjointedly patching together incremental solutions as problems arise, design thinking looks at the entire system to redefine the problem from the ground up

- Design thinking starts by understanding user needs in order to ensure solutions are appropriate, waste is avoided and end users buy into them

- While the factors that cause silo structures in government may be stubborn, design methods offer uniquely effective ways of understanding which teams and departments are relevant to a problem and engaging them in collaborations

In other words, design has evolved from being an add-on into a fully joined-up innovation methodology. Design Council and its partners argue that, with countries around the world adopting this thinking, the European Union cannot afford to be left behind.  Furthermore, with a strong track record of pioneering work from several of its member states, it has a chance to lead the field and create a sustainable, thriving public sector even in a time of crisis.

The UK government’s new digital service,, this year’s recipient of the Design Museum’s Design of the Year Award, is one of a number of best-practice examples from the UK, Denmark and Finland that make up the report’s case studies. These are structured using a new tool, the Public Sector Design Ladder, which divides projects into three categories:

1. Design for discrete problems – designers are hired for one-off jobs
2. Design as capability – design becomes part of the culture of public sector organisations
3. Design for policy – design is used at the highest levels to help create policy

The argument is that, in order to reach step 3, with its potentially massive efficiency gains, one must go through the previous two steps – which also offer benefits. The report recommends that the European Commission should promote use of the ladder and fund work on developing it. It also urges the European Commission to promote design by embedding it in its own working methods. This should not be a sudden or expensively engineered change but should start small, gradually building the evidence base without major risk.

The Rt Hon David Willetts:
“Design is a source of competitive advantage and can help organisations transform their performance. That is why design forms an integral part of the UK Government’s plans for innovation and growth.

Design has the potential to meet the pressing needs of the present, but also to help governments achieve wider long-term aims of growth and quality of life for their citizens … With governments around the world beginning to recognise it, it is a capability Europe cannot afford to ignore.”

Link to download document:

IsabelRoigAt its General Assembly in Barcelona earlier this month, Bureau of European Design Associations members from seventeen nations welcomed Isabel Roig of Barcelona Design Centre (Spain) as their President for the period 2013-15.

Isabel will be supported by Robin Edman of SVID, the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation, who was elected as Vice-President at the Assembly.

On her election, Roig said, “Design has recently been placed high on the political agenda at the European level, but this is not enough: we, BEDA members, must continue to work to enhance the role of design as a key factor for innovation and value creation for our businesses as well as sharing its potential for growth and prosperity across all the European countries and regions”.

Isabel takes over as President from Deborah Dawton of the Design Business Association, UK, and will continue to work closely with her in driving forward design and innovation at European Union level; BEDA has received considerable recognition for the unique and vital role it plays in representing the views of design across Europe, as seen in the recent ‘Design for Growth and Prosperity’ report issued by the European Design Leadership Board.

Roig said of this, “BEDA offers the European Commission a permanent dialogue on design towards the implementation and take-up of the recommendations made by the Leadership Board, and especially those related to public procurement, IPR protection, design research and design leadership”.

DeborahDawtonMy two years as President of BEDA have been a privilege, ground-breaking, frustrating and inspiring, but above all these, life-changing.

A privilege - If I thought heading up a national association was a privilege, then heading up a European one is mind blowing. What a privilege to be able to say that you represent the best of what Europe has to offer across every discipline of design. What a privilege to be able to say that you represent the only network of design organisations across Europe that is growing in its influence and impact. What a privilege to be able to say that you work with the sector of industry that will most likely impact business and government performance for the future benefit of Europe's citizens. The scale of our collective impact is perhaps best illustrated through this e-newsletter, which stops me in my tracks each time I read it. What a powerful group of organisations we are - and our journey together is only just beginning to speed up.

Ground breaking
- BEDA's lobbying of the European Commission over the years paid off when Isabel Roig and I were invited to join the European Design Leadership Board as part of the European Design Innovation Initiative. The culmination of our work over 18 months was the publishing of Design for Growth and Prosperity. As President of BEDA I was asked to present this work in part at the launch event and to the Commission's European Policy Committee. We're now working on a Design Action Plan and hope to see a Design Call at the end of March/early April targeting those areas of the recommendations that have not yet been tackled. BEDA remains at the heart of this work, influencing, advising and driving for change.

- BEDA's budget remains pitifully small, limiting the extent to which we can put new plans into action and have a strategic long-lasting impact. Our core product is membership and for the first time, a concerted effort has been made to significantly increase member numbers. I was hoping to feed back into the General Assembly the impact of this work with over 45 organisations approached in the last couple of months but our follow-up will take longer than I expected. This will remain a key focus for the board, in particular the Membership Working Group, and is the immediate area of work with which I will continue to be involved beyond my term as President.

- Introducing the Working Groups as the way in which BEDA works has yielded far more than I could have hoped for since their implementation. It required an unprecedented time commitment from the board towards BEDA. They all took this on with enthusiasm and while there is still more we could do to develop these working practices, BEDA can point to some very tangible outcomes over the last year. These will be highlighted at the forthcoming General Assembly. Those outputs are testament to the talents we have available to us at BEDA and it has been greatly inspiring for me to work with such a committed group of volunteers.

Life changing -
Finally, my two years as President of BEDA have been life changing. My perspective on design in Europe is broader. My appetite for design's impact in Europe is insatiable. My network of close design friends is extended. My understanding of the importance of our collective impact has deepened. Thank you, BEDA, for this privilege.

Contact BEDA  Koloniënstraat 56, 1000 Brussels (Belgium) t. (+32) 2 217 39 77  f. (+32) 2 217 99 72
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