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Why designers hold the key
to shaping our post COVID society

14. Sep 2021

Design is a force for change. There’s never been a better time to put it to use

Long reads

By CEO of DDC – Danish Design Center, Christian Bason

At the beginning of the 1970s, the famous furniture designer Charles Eames was asked by a French journalist if there were limits to the problems designers have the ability to solve. To that, Charles answered with a question: “What are the limits to problems?”

During the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, one might argue that the limits to our problems were expanding on a daily basis. Billions were spent supporting our economy, but what happens next, as we adjust and figure out life and business in a post-COVID society?  

Design is already a force for change

As Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen planned to reopen Denmark, she emphasized the importance and need for creative solutions as an essential way out of the crisis.

Since 1978, the Danish Design Center has operated on the premise that Danish businesses, regardless of size, sector, or industry, become more competitive through the use and implementation of design. They do this because designers are able to offer a unique perspective to the development process, which dramatically increases the likelihood of innovative solutions.

Today, more than 40 years later, the premise still holds true. Three out of five Danish companies that work systematically with design say that they see the value of design directly reflected on the bottom line. According to the Confederation of Danish Industry, “we export over 300 billion DKK annually, in upmarket products, goods, and services, where the provider can ask a significantly higher price than their competitors because of their high quality and design.” Design is, in short, a force for change. There’s never been a better time to put it to use.

Our design resources need to be activated

With the worst of the virus hopefully behind us, it is time to activate Denmark’s design resources at a whole new level.

Luckily, Denmark has over 50,000 design professionals who embody the special Danish design DNA. From LEGO and Danfoss to Lakrids by Bülow, Pleo, and Vivino, Danish companies are winning with good design because the Danish design DNA is so much more than a Nordic aesthetic; it is a way of thinking sustainably, socially, and transformatively.

Many of the SMEs we’re working with have had to rapidly innovate their existing digital services during the pandemic. In the longer term, they will need to accelerate their basic digital business development to survive as business as usual won’t cut it. Companies will need to completely rethink their interfaces and channels, and collect and process digital data much more systematically.

Other companies are dealing with fractured supply chains, pointing towards a future of increased local production. A shift where cities may once again become the framework for production – only on a smaller and greener scale.

Design with a 20x return

Using strategic design as a starting point, the first step for these companies should not be to build the technical solutions, but to put their customers’ needs and behaviors at the center of new developments. Experience from our work digitizing SMEs through design shows that over 80 percent of the participating companies get ideas for new digital products or services and that more than 90 percent get inspiration for new business development.

These numbers confirm our credo: Design helps generate innovation power in companies. This is why it pays off when publicly financed programs support collaborations between designers and companies who would otherwise not have the opportunity to make use of a designer’s skill sets.

An impact assessment of the publicly financed design program PLUS, shows, for example, that for every Danish krone invested in longer collaborations between designers and companies, the company can realize an average of 20 times more in new value-added, in the years that follow.

Don’t forget about public innovation

Corona or not, a fundamental rethink of our healthcare sector is also coming our way. Several designers are already creating 3D-printed safeguards or communications and behavioral designs that promote corona-safe behavior in the public space. Looking ahead, public service should be shaped around citizens and not the other way around. In an era of scarce resources, funding and governance models are facing scrutiny with a growing need to be innovated putting social and green concerns at the center.

Powerful public design solutions can reshape services from scratch, radically reduce wait time, create consistency and eliminate redundant processes. Design is also the ability to reinvent our physical space, not least urban spaces, and involve citizens in the development process. 

New markets for designers

With their ability to creatively solve problems, designers may just become the new essential workers of the post-covid era. It’s not solely customers or markets that are changing – it’s the context itself that’s changed, perhaps forever. We talk about the “new normal”, but have yet to define exactly what that means. Nonetheless, many of our brightest design agencies are already exploring new ways to navigate with their clients and future-proofing operations and digital innovation. 

One thing we know for sure: New markets and needs will continue to emerge. That’s why our new strategy, conceived in the midst of the pandemic, is all about delivering sustainable growth through design. We have committed ourselves to be a design laboratory that always explores new approaches, challenging companies, public players, and partners to shape a more sustainable future for people and the planet. 

Let’s rethink Denmark together.

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