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Make a Plan Design Policy Conference: seven steps to a design policy

Monday, 20 April 2015   (0 Comments)
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“If design acts as a key lever for socio-economic transformation and development, then a design policy is the anchor, the reference point from which design can be embedded in national, provincial and municipal systems. A design policy provides the framework for defining plans, allocating resources and unlocking the investment needed to deliver sustainable growth and development at all levels of society… An industry guided by policy is one that has come of age, one that is empowered and held accountable.”

This was the central idea behind South Africa’s first Design Policy Conference, held in October last year. Themed “Make a Plan”, the conference brought together 300 delegates and speakers from 15 countries to explore the process of design policy development across the globe. While each speaker had their own story and experience, some common themes emerged that may stimulate further discussions about what design policies can, and should, do.

  1. Context is everything. While we can be inspired and informed by the lessons and experiences of other places, policy and planning must fit our own unique identity, history, geography, industry and culture. In South Africa, the National Development Plan provides the foundations of the policy matrix into which design can be woven to improve the output of major industries, the service industry and the process of social innovation. We must understand – and not underestimate – who we are, what we already have and what we’ve already done.

  2. Collaboration is a key attribute for better design. It creates value by unlocking different kinds of knowledge and surfacing the unexpected. It opens the conversation to explore the notion of collaborative rather than competitive advantage and new values which may spring from that.

  3. If you develop a policy, you must have a plan for implementation. Having a goal, a destination endpoint, provides focus and a pathway for the journey. In the words of one delegate: “Once the rubber hits the road, what are the tangible results?”

  4. Design can help address the world’s wicked problems. While design is not a silver bullet, the act of design can contribute greatly towards social innovation, economic development, and a better quality of life.

  5. Designers have a role to play in influencing what should be included in design policy. With design leadership, political economy and an understanding that design is an enabler for growth, policymakers can be encouraged to engage differently in the design of policy, to ensure that society can benefit from design embedded in policy.

  6. Designers don’t have all the answers, but they have a role to play in passing on their knowledge to help others design better. The role of the designer has changed from one who has all the knowledge to one who shares and integrates knowledge. In a world where it could be argued that everyone is a designer, the future role of the professional designer is to facilitate the collaborative process, hold the complexity and ignite the imagination needed to democratise design, encouraging the bottom-up participation and top-down engagement we need to design a better world.

  7. Design means different things to different people. There is a need for a common understanding of what design is and its role in society; and a common language in how we talk about design, translating it for mutual understanding. Design can be applied at all layers of society, and appreciated by everyone, regardless of social status or economic standing. Creating a common understanding of design and the benefits it can deliver will help to foster collaboration across business, government, academia and the design sector.

Read the full conference report here, for an easy-to-read consolidated snapshot of the discussions held over the two days.

Let’s keep the conversation moving. Tell us what you think about a design policy for South Africa. What does it need? Where should the focus be?

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