Shortlisted for IFG Ulm designing politics programme
Response to Design Observer's "Ethnographic Turn in Design"

Mapping Design Policy Landscape

As part of a conversation I had with Ken Friedman on Saturday, I mapped today the landscape of "Design Policy" or Design and Governmentality. I put it in quotes because the term encapsolates four different agendas in the relationship between design and policy making.


Policy as Designed focuses on the political science work of people lik Helen Ingram and Ann Schneider. This focuses on the processes of policy formation in terms of policy analysts and decision-makers and their effect on democracy and everyday citizen engagement with government. This is the broad context of design policy as policy.  What are the social contexts in which these policies are made, what are the main issues and how they are framed, and what are the processes of policy creation around design? This is important in terms of the analyzing both the policy world itself and how "design policy" functions within that world.

Innovation policy is what I think is both the dominant discourse of "design policy" as it moves away from the focus on design itself, perceived as aesthetics, towards science and engineering. Few countries have official national design policies (I've counted 11 countries), but many more have innovation policies which can be inclusive of design. I think Design Managment and, in particular, industrial design management plays into  and desires to play in this area of policy because it links design to the funding dollars and prestige that comes with the role of innovation in driving national economic competitiveness.  The Innovation Center in Basque region Spain had changed from a design center to an innovation center with the mandate to focus on small and medium enterprise support.  The work the Gisele Raulik at Wales Design falls into this category, as well as, to some extent the British Design Council.  China, Japan, India, and most of the developed and developing nations have innovation policies, but again their are often linked to technology and the sciences.

As well articulated by Ken Friedman,  design promotion focuses on elevating the awareness of the design industry within a nation. The Scandinavian design policies as well as many of the national design councils, centers, etc. in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America have the promotion of national designers and design artifacts as thier mandate. They rely on exhibits, design museums and shops, publications and websites to communicate externally the value of design. For their members, they provide visibility, resources, and community. In the USA, the professional design organizations play this role whereas in other countries it is normally a  government funded design center that does this.

Design standards for me is the most interested area of design policy because it operates almost in stealth mode. Design for inclusion, safety, sustainability, and quality seem to me to be the most sustainable and effective way to engage with a design policy on the national level. If the standards can work at the level of policy, then they become embedded in the everyday practices of governance and thus the nation. Because they have the force of "rules," they are harder to ignore or cut out of the budget when their is an economic downturn. So design and governmentality lives at the intersection of design standards and design as policy, but drawing upon (1) the promotion of design to get the social capital to engage with standards making (as opposed to standardization) and guiding the interpretation of standards and (2) innovation policies to use design to make innovations in governance.

So this is the universe within which I dwell.


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