With the Design for Smart Growth event Jens Martin Skibsted wished to establish Design Policy as an important field for policy makers. Looking back at the outcome he would characterize it as a success, but there is still a lot to be done.

The Global Agenda Council on Design and Innovation is working to promote the use of design. At the recent event on Design for Smart Growth, the 31st of August in Copenhagen, the role of design in policy making was the topic of discussion. Before the event we had talked with the organizer Jens Martin Skibsted, Founding Partner of KiBiSi/Skibsted Ideation and Vice-Chair of the Global Agenda Council on Design & Innovation, who told us that his ambition for the event was to establish Design Policy as a field in the minds of policy makers and designers. Now, after having had time to digest all the input and new ideas, we wanted to know if his ambitions were fulfilled.

Reaching a broader audience

“Based on the feedback I have gotten, people are realizing that Design Policy is happening now”, Skibsted replies when asked whether the event was a success. “There have been enough nerds and experts working in the corners around in the ministries for it now to reach a broader audience.” That was one of the key takeaways from the event, “It is now matured enough to go beyond the nerd stage”, he continues. This observation is supported by the fact that originally the event was intended to be a roundtable for design experts but ended up attracting people from various other sectors. “We thought that there would be 20 industry geeks debating. In the end over 100 people came, and the only reason it wasn’t more was that we put a cap on the event and told them off due to the capacity of the venue. This in itself shows that we have moved beyond the inner circle and that other people begin to get interested and understand the subject. In that respect [the event] has been a success”, Skibsted says.

The Design for Smart Growth event was the third in a series of four roundtable discussions organized by the Global Agenda Council on Design and Innovation. The journey began with the Design and Education event in New York, followed by the Design of Complexity event at MIT, and will end the 17th of October in Tokyo with a discussion on Design and Urbanization. But according to Skibsted, the task of putting design on the global agenda does not end there, “We will write a sort of manifesto for what design can do for the world. We got some influential people who will back it and then the council [the Global Agenda Council on Design and Innovation] will sign off on it, which will give it some weight going forward.”

The manifesto will hopefully reach a broad audience, but the main target group is decision makers, the people in and around World Economic Forum. Therefore it is important that the manifesto has some strong support from influential people. “At Davos the creative industries’ sessions are sometimes perceived as a creative break or some kind of entertaining feature. So it is really important to get across that this is not about being entertained or working in a more fun way. This is about making things happen. And the seriousness surrounding these roundtable discussions gives some weight to it, and makes it difficult to disregard”, says Skibsted.

The future is bright

Looking back at the event Skibsted is very pleased with the quality and diversity of the speakers, and he especially finds the contribution from Ida Auken, the Danish Minister for the Environment, inspiring, “She works with design thinking at the core of her politics. It is not an afterthought. You simply cannot think of sharing economy or circular economy without having design in the DNA of what you are doing.” It stems from an idealistic political approach, a wish to truly make a difference that Skibsted finds to be far from the usual belief among politicians, “When you move into the political field you see how stakeholders often primarily have an agenda that is focused on promoting their own career. […] You envision that being in politics has to do with promoting a greater good. But that is not what I’m seeing…” According to Skibsted the apparent focus on career promotion or making ends meet makes it difficult to convey a global and in many ways idealistic agenda as the one on design policy. But with young politicians, such as Ida Auken, Skibsted believes in a brighter future, “It is extremely positive to see a younger generation, where design is such an integral part of their thinking so that design as a term almost becomes redundant because it simply implicitly is a part of their policy.”

A key takeaway from the event that resonates well with Skibsted is the necessity to change the way politicians regulate. In order to unfold the potential of design-thinking, a move away from prescriptive legislation is required. Whereas prescriptive legislations can turn into barriers for innovative solutions, a shift of attention to the goals and problems will allow for design to address the issues in the best possible way. Skibsted has previously presented the idea of a pre-stage-gate approach – having a holistic phase before the actual development cycle to allow for design thinking to qualify the problem as well as the solution. At the event several ideas were presented that touched upon this kind of thinking, e.g. the 2011 INDEX Award winner Hövding. They redesigned the bicycle helmet by focusing on the problem, which lead to the invention of an airbag that you wear as a collar instead of the traditional helmet. Or the idea of fixing the price in requests for tender to have architects and designers compete on ingenuity instead of price, a simple way to get more out of less. “This is a completely different way of regulating, where you almost get this pre-stage-gate approach into the process itself without even defining it,” Skibsted explains, and concludes, “It is relatively easy to implement, it is policy in its clearest form, it directly influences design, and it sets design and innovation free to help the world. There is a lot of potential in this.”

With the Design for Smart Growth event successfully over the attention is now turned to the meeting on Design and Urbanization in Tokyo this October, where the discussions and work will continue in order to put design on the global agenda.

About The Author

Kasper Worm-Petersen
Managing Director

Kasper is Managing Director and co-founder of Grasp. He is passionate about education and the intersection between the humanities and business. He is currently finishing his MSc in Philosophy and Business Administration from Copenhagen Business School and is a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.