What is the value of a national design policy?

Can getting design on the government's agenda really benefit working designers? We ask 7 presenters at next week's WDC2014 Design Policy Conference to weigh in.
Hot Topic: The value of a design policy

It might venture into territory that sounds theoretical and feels far removed from the daily challenges of working as a designer, but having a national design policy is crucial to moving the design industry forward as a whole.

The private sector – both small and medium enterprises and big corporates – can only carry the industry so far. What's clear is that for a developing country such as South Africa, government needs to get on board in order to implement broader changes.

A group of academics, entrepreneurs and strategists will probe the topic from all angles at the World Design Capital 2014's Design Policy Conference in Cape Town on 17 and 18 October.

The conference will explore the policies and best practices needed to realise the full potential of the design and creative industry in South Africa. 

What can South Africa learn from the example of countries such as the UK, Finland, South Korea, Brazil and India that have implemented national design policies? And how can such a policy benefit working designers?

Seven leading thinkers from around the world weigh in.

Hester du Plessis, head of Humanities, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, South Africa

The impact of design is one of the more hidden aspects that drive economic development and as such, South Africa needs to forefront design as one of the pillars towards the successful implementation of the National System of Innovation (NSI). Within the intentions of the National Development Plan (NDP 2030), which currently serves as driver for the government’s desire to eliminate poverty and inequality, we find reference to the critical capabilities required to develop South Africa. As one of those critical capabilities, the role of design is crucial given the varied inflows and impacts of design on society.

Srini Srinivasan, CEO, LUMIUM Innovations, US

Developing countries such as South Africa need design-driven solutions that can lead to an innovation-led creative economy. Having its own design policy will help the country define a set of uniform design processes and strategies that will boost the design industry locally. Design policy will lead to design enablement, which in turn, creates a great value proposition for developing businesses.

Richie Moalosi, associate professor, Industrial Design and Technology Department, University of Botswana

The policy will provide a platform to promote design awareness within South Africa in particular and in other developing countries. It will assist in the creation of original South African designs that integrate rich craft traditions and cultural heritage. The policy will facilitate strategic integration and cooperation with other continental and global design organisations.

Ricardo Mejia, PhD fellow, ID-StudioLab; former R&D+i advisor, Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, Colombia

In my opinion, each country needs to develop its own specific policy because policies are based on particular principles and these principles are contextual and local. An in-depth revision of local conditions, needs, expectation and requirements is needed in order to have a tailor-made set of policies instead of a generic one. Depending on the complexity and variety of the country, a regional policy may be necessary using the national policy as framework. 

Ralitsa Debrah, lecturer, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana

A design policy can benefit South Africa, in a number of ways by:

1. Recognising the role of the designer in government-initiated projects such as town and city planning initiatives, branding government agencies and finding solutions to emerging problems in society;

2. Creating standards and capacity building for designers to encourage more young people into this creative field;

3. Giving recognition to the design practice in national development.

Anabella Rondina, manager, Metropolitan Design Centre, Buenos Aires

Each country has its own history, culture, productive system, natural resources, etc. Having its own design policy benefits the country because there is no way to implement methodologies from abroad, especially if they come from developed countries with a very different context. You can analyse them, take some models and learn from other experience but you have to adapt a lot of things to your own context. I think you have to know the needs of your context very well to develop your own tools that will help your country improve through design. And this only can be effective if you develop your own design policy.

Michael Thomson, founder and director, Design Connect, London

There are many benefits, but I see three as key:

1. The complex process of thinking about, planning for and writing a design policy is a powerful one. It helps to bring people from different points of view together, to highlight key issues as well as to clarify and communicate the needs and opportunities of national and local communities. 

2. It creates a visible focus for politicians and other stakeholders involved in the process to exchange, explore, build and share language around what design can do for the citizens of a country by improving innovation and deepening culture and identity.

3. A design policy also asks the question, "What is it about us that is unique?", "What do we ‘own’ (as a characteristic, a quality, a skill, an approach), in a way that other countries do not?" and "What are the unique strengths that we have precisely because of our unique and special reality?"

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