Visit from Danish Design Centre: learn and inspire

“A proposal is not the ultimate solution, but an option.”

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Published on 16 November 2022
Visit from Danish Design Centre: learn and inspire
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Denmark and the Netherlands: The countries have similarities such as the countries’ relief – flat – and the weather – a lot of rain. The countries also score high on the world ranking of happiest countries, which the United Nations publishes yearly. Denmark is in second place, and the Netherlands is in fifth place. In addition, both countries also attach great importance to design. The Danish government has its own Danish Design Centre (DDC); the Dutch government has named the creative industry as one of the ten top sectors. What can the countries learn from each other? That’s what we discussed with Christian Bason, CEO of DDC.  He visited Dutch Design Week 2022 (DDW22) with about thirty colleagues.  

“At DDC, we always say that we should experiment, learn and share. We are active on many fronts and communicate about what we’re doing. But we often fall short of really taking the time to learn systematically and to be inspired. This DDW22 is a huge source of inspiration for us.”

Three missions

The DDC is an independent foundation, partly funded by the Danish government and partly by commercial organisations. “We are kind of an extension of the Ministry of Business, and we focus on the ‘how’.” With a team of forty people, DDC is working on three missions. The Green Transition: designing the irresistible circular society, the Digital Transition: towards a more ethical digital society and the Social Transition: a radical approach to the mental health emergency. “We put societal challenges first and always work together with parties – depending on the issue – from the ecosystem. For example, for a health care project within the Social Transition, we worked together with amongst others priests.”  

Since its inception in 1978, the centre has created business opportunities. “The main thing for us is that in order to do good business, you have to have a positive impact on society and the planet. Within our missions, together with designers and companies, we open certain markets that in some respects do not yet exist.”

The intersection of design and policy

The DDC works at the intersection of design and policy. “Policy-making is often based on expertise, but not on empathy. Not on a deep understanding of the human condition, how people experience services, regulations, or government interventions.  Good policy influences people’s lives positively.  How can you develop good policies if you don’t understand people’s lives? We are creating a space in which the citizen experience is a source of material and input for the policy process.” 

The centre does this by, among other things, involving policy target groups, questioning them and investigating what drives them. “We also experiment, simulate and rehearse: what would happen if we presented certain policies to people?”

DDC focuses on the implementation of policy, Bason continued. “If we agree that there should be more circularity, how do we do that? From the mission for a circular and sustainable economy (Green Transition, ed.), we invite policymakers to participate in the whole process. They help build a vision, set up new projects to support business and practice, and invest in new tools and methods that help companies switch to more circularity and sustainability.”

 We always work together to figure out the ‘how’,” Bason emphasises that it is not just about people’s lives.  “It’s also about understanding all living things. How do we design and create solutions that do not negatively impact our planet?”

‘I also get the feeling that everyone in the Netherlands works together. There is a sense of community; people have fun together, and there is a lot of openness. It's very bottom-up; there's no top-down decision-making, but a community of designers who want to do this.’

Dynamic ecosystem

When Bason first visited DDW in 2019, he saw that the design culture and the Dutch ecosystem differed from Denmark. “Designers create something concrete here, and we don’t have a week like DDW in Denmark. The ecosystem feels more dynamic here, and everyone works towards sustainability in many different ways. I thought: there is something to learn here; I have to go there with my team.”

“We have learned, in particular, that we need to involve designers even more. Not just the designers we work with on the missions—also others. With DDW and the Embassies, you have platforms to reach even more creatives. That is very inspiring to see.”

“I also get the feeling that everyone in the Netherlands works together. There is a sense of community; people have fun together, and there is a lot of openness. It’s very bottom-up; there’s no top-down decision-making, but a community of designers who want to do this.”

Tangible Possibilities

“At DDC, we are less inclined to make the themes concrete at an early stage. We spend a lot of time on vision and future-oriented work, we build artefacts that inspire people potentially to make new things later, but that takes time. During DDW22, we saw that you could also ask designers to make something at an early stage. So that what it is about becomes tangible. We learn from this that a proposal is not necessarily the ultimate solution, but a possibility.” 

“I think the big challenge for all of us is to find the right balance. How can you systematically and holistically mobilise many actors with vision and ambition in the long term while working on it locally in a concrete, tangible, and bottom-up way? How do we bring both parts together?”

A fruitful week for Bason and his team. A week that leaves you wanting more: “We want to deepen the relationship between the Netherlands and Denmark within the design world. That is why I am already talking to a few people here to organise a conference or seminar in the spring of 2023 where we will investigate the collaboration between Dutch and Danish design. You should be proud of what you have already achieved.”

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