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The Design Policy Beacon is an evidence-based online resource that raises awareness on design policy across the EU through design interpretation and data visualisation. The aim is to support the growing community of policymakers who are working to make design a key part of national, regional and local policies for innovation and growth. 

Building on the principles and actions actions given by the Design Policy Lab at Politecnico di Milano, the Beacon primarily pinpoints and presents the network of initiatives and organisations in support of design in different European countries. It utilises data visualisation to explore the most pressing issues, answering questions like: what type of investments have been made to support design? What has been achieved? Who is investing in this area? 

The Beacon is built on a theoretical framework that interprets design policy ecosystems through two main tools, the Design Policy Categorisation and the Design Policy Ecosystem of Organisations.


The Design Policy Beacon's aim is to help policymakers share stories and insights, connect and build an international network to address similar design-related challenges. The Beacon is built on a theoretical framework that interprets design policy ecosystems through two main tools, the Design Policy Categorisation and the Design Policy Ecosystem of Organisations. These describe what a design policy ecosystem is and represent the scope of complex roles and relationships within design governance. In this article, we introduce the rationale behind the DP Categorisation tool and how this can help interpret the set of design policy actions in a country. 

A 'goal-oriented' taxonomy for design policy actions 

The model behind the Design Policy Categorisation adopted in the Beacon guides the recognition of the presence and/or absence of different types of governmental support for design on the basis of seven categories of investment and focusing on policy objectives in order to idenitify the area of intervention as well as to understand who/what is supported. This type of 'goal-oriented' approach has been adopted in order to include a number of support measures that aren't normally taken into account when mapping design policies but are nonetheless relevant especially in those contexts that lack a more structured support scheme (i.e. explicit national policy). 

The underlying assumption of our taxonomy is based on three main categories (framework, human, and asset development).

The underlying assumption of our taxonomy is based on three main categories (framework, human, and asset development) and mainly states that a complete system should support design adequately in all three areas. Hereafter, a brief introduction to the meaning of each layer. 

1st category –  Human development

Policies that build design capabilities – aimed directly at the development of organisational or individual design capabilites that support research – directed at improving the quality and applicability of design research as well as supply and demand of design-related services. 
Capability building – measures aimed directly at the development of organisational design capabilities. 
Support for reseacrh – improving the waulity and applicability of research and design. 
Services supply – enhancing the demand of design-related services. 

2nd category – Asset development

Policies that support technical development and the improvement of connectivity and collaboration by directly adressing technical, networking and collaborative issues facing organisations. 
Technical support – Empowerment of pre-existing technological assets (hardware), acquisition of new technological assets, and facilitation to acquisition of prototyping services and facilities.
Networking and collaboration – Measures to improve connectivity and collaboration.

3rd category – Framework development

Policies that provide direct financial interventions and measures for promotion & advocacy – aimed at creating awareness of design and the value of design.
Promotion and advocacy – Measures aimed at creating awareness of design and the value of design.
Financial support – The policy or initiative provides direct financial support for design (organisations or individuals).

Comparing actions on the same scale

Our taxonomy has been designed with broad categories on purpose so that it could be applied to systems with diverse levels of maturity and richness of actions for design support. As mentioned before, this is important when the support is less structured and explicit, because smaller but still relevant activities might happen at other scales (i.e. local and regional level). However, scale is a crucial variable in this subject matter that should guide toward comparing systems that are equal (although the definition of equal in this case is not simple – could it be countries of the same size? Countries with similar population? Or with similar GDP?).

Further complexity is hidden in the differentiation between types of policy actions. In our framework, we consider three different types, each of which might happen at different levels of the design support eco-system:

Policy – as an instrument or a set of rules by which national or regional governments determine and enact rules, activities, and other processes necessary to support design at large.
Programme/Initiative – as smaller actions (e.g. programmes, projects, campaigns, awards, competitions, etc.) derived from a policy (whether this is explicitly about design or more generally about innovation or the creative sector), and designed to achieve part of the objectives of that policy.
Project – as a one-time experimental action launched by the institution/governmental body to test new types of support programmes or acting through/on new subjects.

From theory to real users

In order to test its effectiveness, a theoretical model should be put into practice and validated in collaboration with potential users. For this reason, the Design Policy Lab has organized different events to discuss this framework with policy makers, professionals and innovators from different European countries.

An example is “Design Policy in Action – The model of the Luxembourg Design Action Group”, an event held in Luxembourg in March 2016 that has gathered Design for Europe’s ambassadors from Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Portugal.

The majority of countries analysed declares the absence of design from their national/regional strategies for growth, and still struggles to find and build opportunities for design support beyond pilot programmes, with limited budgets and duration.


Also the event “Design and policy making - Design Policy Beacon: a tool of analysis” – held in Milan in June 2016 – was an important moment of dialogue, where Italian experts in policy making were asked to feed back on our the Design Policy Beacon concerning the specific policy frame of Regione Lombardia, in Italy.

Furthermore, since the Beacon’s release, the framework has been applied and reiterated through the development of the Landscape section, especially in the format for Country Analysis, an in-depth inquiry on the design policy landscape/ecosystem of a nation.

While the development of the fully working map and info-visualisation is a constant work in progress where one of the main risks is to avoid rapid obsolescence of data, it is already possible to observe some common patterns. In particular, all the European contexts analysed so far (Denmark, France, UK, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Italy, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Belgium, Hungary, Norway) seem to still have a fragmented understanding of design across different regional and national levels. The majority of countries analysed declares the absence of design from their national/regional strategies for growth, and still struggles to find and build opportunities for design support beyond pilot programmes, with limited budgets and duration.
 


 

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