Design Centres: from Europe to Asia, the New Hubs of Innovation

The meeting of the minds that study the present to change the future

Giuliano Molineri

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Design Center, City of Linz

Jan Stavik, president of the Norwegian Design Council, founded in 1963 by the Norwegian Federation of Industry and the Norwegian Export Council explains: “Our aim is to convince industry to work more closely with designers in order to foster innovation and competitivity. Our main targets are national industry, then politicians, bureaucrats and the media. And lastly consumers”.

To understand what a design centre is, just think of a kind of hub, a meeting point for the minds of designers and students, training bodies, new companies and established firms, but also trade, craft and industrial associations, and local and public bodies. Basically all the players interested in professional development, boosting quality and promoting the international scope of products; as well as boosting the country’s image too.

Facilities where designers and students, but also governments and interested individuals can experiment with the magic that revolutionizes scenarios

Naturally design centres also communicate with the outside world, in a range of different ways, from dedicated publications to established channels of communication in print and on the web. The aim is to choose the most effective means for conveying the contents and results of each project.

Entering a design centre means accessing an area which hosts temporary exhibitions, libraries and materials archives, conference rooms and workshops. Individuals and associations, undergraduates and researchers, but also start-up companies, can access equipment for assisted design and modelling, and also the advice of technologists working in companies and courses held by international experts in each specific field.

The strategic tools for promoting development through design, and the correct approach to the design process, are the resources and mission not only of design centres but also national design councils in the public sector. This includes the big training bodies which are called on to implement government policy in the field.

Remaining in northern Europe which has a lot to teach us the Danish Design Centre, founded in 1978, focuses on promoting design in industry in order to boost competitivity, encouraging companies to invest in design. In the three year period 2006-2009 the centre – an independent body linked to the Danish Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs – has set itself a series of very interesting objectives. On the one hand it aims to enhance the professional skills of those working in design-oriented Danish companies, and design buyers, in order to foster greater knowledge and awareness of the subject, while on the other hand it is committed to establishing Danish design nationally and internationally, forging a network between touring exhibitions on Danish products and conferences and events dedicated to promoting design.

Heading south to the Mediterranean we meet the BCD in Barcelona, a non-profit private foundation which boasts considerable experience in promoting design and its strategic value in the business field. It is particularly involved in helping companies wishing to implement or improve design management procedures.

France also holds its own. The Centre du Design Rhones Alpes, the most business-oriented European organization, is another exemplary facility. While it only possesses a number of typical design centre facilities and services, it manages to promote numerous applied research projects and provide company-oriented tools which are highly practical in terms of implementation. Last but not least, it specializes in research into environmental compatibility, and publishes high quality periodicals and books on eco-design.

photos: Taiwan Design Center

Stateside there are no design centres as such, but the IDSA (Industrial Designers Society of America) represents a point of encounter and debate for the design community, in terms of both professionals and companies. It boasts 3,000 members and has an extraordinary network. It recently demonstrated its capabilities organizing the Congress of the ICSID, the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, held in San Francisco in October 2007. This event, where Turin was nominated the first World Design Capital, attracted more than 2,000 participants and involved a panel of international speakers from a wide variety of disciplines: from statistics to psychology to sociology.

The strategic tools for promoting development through design, and the correct approach to the design process, are the resources and mission not only of design centres but also national design councils in the public sector

As well as publishing the quarterly Innovation and running the Annual International Design Excellence Awards it also had the vision to involve the journal Business Week, which for years has been publishing a special edition on America’s top one hundred design projects.

We can round off our world tour in Asia. While Japan continues to handle design and its deployment with aristocratic flair, the Indian government is focusing on the development of the NID, the National Institute of Design (a new R&D Campus was opened in Bangalore in March 2006). It is an approach that is paying off in terms of fostering technological and business talent among a sizeable population of young people.

One design centre that comes close to satisfying all the basic requirements is that of Taiwan. The TDC, the Taiwan Design Center in Taipei, reflects the creative, productive and entrepreneurial spirit of the island’s population and has succeeded in forging a network between local firms, government bodies, universities and research institutes which is yielding significant results.

Founded in 2004, it is based in an elegant building and boasts halls for workshops and documentation, a well-stocked materials archive and two areas for behavioural testing. The first is dedicated to assessing the limited sensations perceived by our nervous system in response to all the stimuli it is subjected to. It records reactions and reflexes at particular times of day, for example when driving in traffic, performing manual work with a tool, and so on. The second testing area focuses on inclusive design projects, and therefore analyses the behaviour of consumers in the kitchen or bathroom, at work or in the gym, in relation to their age and any physical disabilities.

Moving to Korea means upping the ante: the number of facilities dedicated to design is increasing exponentially. From Daejon to Gwangju, from Busan to Seoul, which has been nominated second World Design Capital in 2010 by the ICSID.

We can expect great things of Seoul, including the opening of a World Design Center, situated in a huge square which has been completely remodelled for the occasion and renamed World Design Plaza.

The KIDP(Korea Institute of Design Promotion), which was founded in 1970 and has been based in a glass skyscraper just outside Seoul for some time now, functions as a ministry for design policy, playing a governmental role concerning Korean exportation. It is also responsible for setting up design innovation centres in various universities.

However Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Beijing are the destinations that best represent the keen attention that the political world devotes to the potential of design as a key factor in economic growth. Something we can all observe and learn from.