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Design helps businesses grow: Action plan to promote design-driven innovation

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During hard economic times investment in design can give enterprises a competitive edge over rivals, which is why Europe must take full advantage of its global leadership position in design.

In order to fully exploit the design's potential to boost innovation, growth and job creation, the European Commission presented today an action plan to promote the use of design in innovation. Design is of particular importance and is recognised as a key discipline and activity to bring ideas to market, transforming them into user-friendly and appealing products. Although some European countries are world leaders in design, others lack a robust design infrastructure and design capability. This systemic gap has largely gone unnoticed but must now be tackled because innovation can literally save enterprises across Europe.

Practical examples of the role of design in successful companies

Design plays a key role as an intangible asset for innovative companies. 21% of European companies use design as a strategic means to encourage innovation and the EU's design sector has an annual turnover of €36 billion. To ensure competitiveness, prosperity and well-being in the EU, all forms of innovation, including non-technological user-driven innovation, need to be supported. A broad understanding of design will help Europe's enterprises to provide better products and services and increase the standard of living for EU citizens. While design is a key European asset it has not yet been fully exploited to foster competitiveness. Analyses of the contribution of design show that companies that strategically invest in design tend to be more profitable and grow faster. Here are a few examples:

  • When one European company which traditionally produced plastic parts for big car manufacturers started producing more sophisticated products and investing in radical innovations through design, their business started growing. Today they are one of the few companies in their region that have been able to grow during the crisis. 
  • A high street music specialist has had to react to massive changes in the way its customers buy music and video titles since the arrival of digital files and the internet. It used design to create a next generation store and whole new brand proposition. Sales at a trial store jumped by 25 per cent. 
  • A frozen food company suffered badly following a backlash against poor diets and rising obesity, so it worked with designers to rethink the way its packaging speaks to shoppers in supermarkets, promoting the product’s natural ingredients and low fat. Sales have since blossomed to record levels.

The qualities of European design come from diverse cultures and make it distinctive and competitive in an age of globalisation. With over 400 000 professionally-trained designers, Europe has internationally recognised capability and a leadership position in design. Design has the potential to become an integral part of European innovation policy. User-centred and non-technological aspects of innovation are, however, still insufficiently integrated into innovation policy and support in Europe.

Action Plan for Design-Driven Innovation
Today's action plan intends to accelerate the take-up of design in innovation policy at European, national and regional levels and to create the capacity and competencies needed to implement these policies. The action lines correspond as widely as possible with the recommendations of the European Design Leadership Board (MEMO/12/673) and are based on a consultation with a broad representation of stakeholders.

Promoting understanding of design’s impact on innovation
Although some European countries are world leaders in design, others lack a robust design infrastructure and design capability. This systemic gap has largely gone unnoticed but must now be tackled. Therefore the following actions should be undertaken:

  • advocating design’s role in innovation to policy makers across Europe,
  • measuring the economic impact of design and its role alongside other intangible assets in value creation,
  • applying design methods in multidisciplinary research and innovation programmes,
  • developing methods for design-driven innovation in education and
  • facilitating continuous dialogue among the key stakeholders of design-driven innovation policy.

Promoting design-driven innovation in industries to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness

Wider use of design, as well as other non-technological innovations, is one of the key drivers for developing high value products, increasing productivity and improving resource efficiency. To this end action should be taken to:

  • create the capacity to deliver support for design-driven innovation for businesses throughout Europe,
  •  strengthen European SMEs’ ability to use design as a strategic tool in creating products and services with a higher value for their customers,
  •  enhance cooperation among companies that invest in design as a competitive asset, promoting new collaborative innovation strategies and practices that enable new business-models,
  • integrate design into research and development to better support commercial and societal applications benefiting from a strong user orientation,
  • investigate the needs to update the protection of the intellectual property rights for design.

Promoting the adoption of design to drive renewal in the public sector

The squeeze on public finances has created renewed momentum for the modernisation of public administration. The Commission considers fostering user-friendly procedures for service providers and recipients to be one of the particular contributors to growth. The focus should be on:

  • Building the capacity of public sector administrators to use design methods and to procure design effectively
  • Enhancing research and development of design-driven innovation for efficient and user-friendly public services
  • Promoting peer learning and cooperation among public-sector actors looking for design-driven solutions

The European Design Innovation Platform is a project within the framework of the Action Plan for Design-Driven Innovation, co-financed by the Commission. It will provide a web-based platform for cooperation and dissemination of information as well as other actions to promote the adoption of design as a driver for innovation. It will be complementary to existing cooperation structures and networks operating in related fields and will develop synergies with them.

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