Days of Clusters Conference
The annual Days of Clusters event in Brașov brings together leading figures in the private and public sector in the Balkan and Black Sea region to share their experiences and the latest examples of best practice.
At Days of Cluster Design for Europe had the opportunity to host two events as part of the Design Driven Romania series. Design Driven Romania set out to demonstrate why design is a vital asset for companies and governments alike. The events hosted by Design for Europe emphasised the role design can play to support innovation in the region, drawing on examples from other European countries who have faced similar challenges.
The context: the state of design in Romania
Romania is a country with a huge amount of design potential, but currently a lot of the public and private sector do not use design at all. Its value is currently seen only in terms of aesthetics, and as result, there are very few live examples of strategic design. Crucially there’s still very little public recognition of the positive economic effects that design can bring. These are areas where we feel Design for Europe can start to make a difference.
Including design in Romania’s policies for innovation
Our first event on Design in Innovation Policies was hosted by Design for Europe partner Birmingham City University. This event was aimed at policymakers and SMEs, and featured a panel discussion on including design in innovation policies.
The conversation highlighted the advantages of implementing design-led innovation policies at a city level. The benefit of working this way is that projects can be “challenge driven”, meaning that they can respond directly to the specific environmental and economic issues a city is facing. These policies can encourage innovation and experimentation based on real user needs, and as a result produce fresh ideas that contribute to economic development and quality of life in a city.
The Birmingham City University team was particularly keen to highlight the potential contribution of product and service innovation to the creative and cultural industries. In recent years the city of Birmingham has seen a dramatic shift from being a former-industrial centre lacking in investment, to a growing city with a thriving creative sector. The Birmingham example also underlines the role universities can play in boosting a regional economy by giving local people the creative and entrepreneurial skills to succeed.
This panel discussion was followed up with Bar Camp Brasov, an interactive session during which participants could put forward ideas that would increase the take-up of these kind of design-driven activities in Romania. These included:
Production techniques: design at the engineering workplace
Participants highlighted the need to adopt new manufacturing techniques and incorporate design skills including: changing the workplace safety culture and adopting approaches from ergonomics to increase product quality.
Design education in schools
Participants felt the impact on the Romanian society would be very positive if design were made a central part of the school curriculum to help create the innovators of the future.
Co-designing city branding
Participants felt the experience of living and working in Brașov could be improved if the city government better understood the needs citizens. One idea was to establish a team to conduct user research to examine how people use public services currently and identify where the most pressing issues lie. Delegates felt there were currently a lot of infrastructural issues in Brașov, and a lot of potential for improvement if city authorities gained a better understanding how citizens currently use the transport network. These observations could then form the basis of creative brief that could be used to find new ways to solve these problems.
The panel we put together included:
- Alexa Hartwell, Cross Innovation Producer – Birmingham City University (part of the Design for Europe consortium)
- Michaela Mixova, Depo2015 – Creative Zone Pilsen
- Razvan Patrascu, Co-founder & Member of the Steering Committee – Alt Brasov
- Steve Harding, Head of Transforming the Region – Birmingham City University (part of the Design for Europe consortium)
About the Bar Camp Method
The Birmingham City University team used the BarCamp method to run this session asking the audience “What design policies and practices do you want to develop?”. The audience’s ideas were gathered on a grid, the delegates picked which topic they wanted to work on then formed small groups to discuss the idea in more detail. This was run in two rounds, during which six topics were covered with each small group feeding back to assembled delegates.
This technique works well as it is participant-driven and came at the end of the day when attendees had been hearing about the subjects in detail as part of the conference programme. It gives ownership of the discussion to the group and provides a platform for a wide range of views, surfacing a large number of new ideas.
To make the process a little less formal, each group was was named after a famous Birmingham band. For this afternoon session Days of Clusters boasted an impressive line-up of UB40, Black Sabbath and Duran Duran.
Using design to overcome challenges
Day two was hosted by the Danish Design Centre who aimed to give participants practical insights and design-driven tools applicable to their organisations.
A key focus was to look at how design can systematically generate insights into user and stakeholders needs – then transform these insights into tangible new solutions.
The event was devised by the Danish Design Centre in collaboration with leading Danish design company Attention Group. Both parties drew upon experiences and case studies from a new business programme in Denmark called PLUS. This programme facilitates explorative design partnerships between Danish design firms and companies in the services and manufacturing sectors to tackle complex innovation challenges.
For many companies the future they face is increasingly difficult to predict. Existing business models are under threat, and new approaches are needed to transform customer needs and expectations into products and services. This is a key reason, why we at the Danish Design Centre have agreed on a new strategy that allow us to run systematic experiments on how design can create value for businesses.
The PLUS programme is funded by Denmark’s Market Development Fund and aims to create new partnerships between large companies and strategic design firms to pioneer new approaches and increase innovation. The partners work closely together on a challenge defined by the company, this allows both partners to test and experiment with design methods to develop entirely new processes and areas of business.
Good insights make for better design
For businesses the importance of understanding their users has never been greater. Companies should be continuously and systematically challenging their own understanding of the needs, wants and limitations of the real human beings using their products or services – as well as their social, cultural and psychological context.
It’s vital companies have a clear picture of who their users are, because it’s these insights that help identify strategic opportunities. These same insights can then form the basis of the practical and innovative solutions catering to existing and emerging markets. Crucially, insights identify what people are actually doing with your product or service!
By using design methods such as: fieldwork, observations studies, user journey mapping, service blueprints, co-creation workshops, contextual interviews and personas, companies together with designers will be able to identify needs, limitations and new market opportunities. They do this by understanding what brings value, what motivates, what inspires and what influences behaviour.
How might we design a more homely hospital bed?
That was the challenge to be solved in the insights workshop as part of the event. 30 participants from across business, design, academia, policymaking and the public sector were mixed together and then divided into 5 groups. They were then presented with a range of different user insights on which to base their idea generation.
Building on the large number of initial ideas they generated, the groups were asked to merge the best ideas into one concept. However just before during so, the groups were presented to new insights. This was to demonstrate how fresh insights can challenge current thinking and perceptions even at the concept phase, but they can also further support the development new design ideas.
The groups came up with very interesting concepts incorporating most of the insights and user needs presented. The aim was to illustrate the power of multi-disciplinary teams, the power of insights – both to meet future needs, but also to serve as great inspiration for development and innovation.