That December evening was when I freshly came back from Helsinki, one of the genuine capitals of design. Design approach is omnipresent in Finland. As I heard there from Tommi Laitio – Executive Director for Culture and Leisure in Helsinki , "Finland is one of the happiest, safest, healthiest countries with the best education and this hasn’t happen by accident, it was developed by design". "For us Finns, design is not a luxury, it is usability and practicality with added beauty", echoed Hanna Kosonen, Finland's Minister of Science and Culture. Just as a side note, I will mention that Finland was one of the first countries in the world to adopt a national design policy, promote design as its strategic asset through initiatives like World Design Capital, establish Design Lab to solve social challenges, appoint Chief Design Officer for its capital or adopt experimentation as an approach to constantly improve quality of life.
In one of the emblems of Finnish design and democratic way of life - Helsinki’s new Central Library Oodi, I participated in BEDA International Design Policy Conference that was organised as part of the programme of Finland's Presidency of the Council of the European Union. BEDA is the European design organisation that brings together design promotion centres, professional and trade associations for designers from across the continent. The conference asked the question 'how design can serve to ensure successful Europe?' and proved that design is ready to play a fundamental role in delivering solutions to Europe's most pressing issues, giving a new impetus and optimism for the future.
In Oodi my colleague, Dr Anna Whicher, presented the results of our work with BEDA on Design Policy for Europe. We have aligned findings from a series of exploratory workshops with policymakers, industry and businesses with the new European Commission priorities to show how to harness the power of design to drive innovation and fuel economy growth, while leading on green transformation through behavioural change in citizens and businesses towards the environment; as well as to reinstate the legitimacy of public decision-making, reinvigorate democracy and European values.
The position paper 'Towards New Generation Design Policy for Europe' outlines design actions for :
- Ecology - design for climate-neutral economy;
- Economy - ensuring prosperity for all through collaborative design-driven innovation;
- E-Europe - design for data and digital;
- Ethos - design for democracy, values and international relations.
This paper is particularly timely as Europe is setting out to debate its future. The Conference on the Future of Europe is a major initiative of the new European Commission, headed by Ursula von der Leyen. It is mentioned in the President's Agenda for Europe, as a way give new drive to the European project and bring Europe closer to its citizens. This ambitious initiative will commence in early 2020 and run until 2022 to gather opinions and proposals on where the European democracy should be heading. The Commission emphasises the importance of citizens’ participation in that process, hence the conference is expected to be an opportunity to engage citizens, "including a significant role for young people, civil society, and European institutions as equal partners" to find concrete proposals to improve the way in which the EU works in various fields of policy and institutional relations.
I am convinced that human-centric and collaborative approach of design can help to bring out that 'tenderness' in us that Tokarczuk was talking about. Through empathetic engagement, design can facilitate deliberative democracy to build and strengthen consensus among citizens, to bridge the gap between public policies and citizen needs and to create alternative, inspiring visions for the future. As the most intelligent and creative species on Earth, we are having a profound impact on it. It is time to harness that creative power and resourcefulness for good. Design is here to provide succour and support.