Tangibility of governance in Ghana
Going to New York on vacation

Two reasons for the failure of design policy

This is an excerpt from a paper I am writing. I post this section because I hope to get some feedback as to whether this is the case.

The history of design promotion and design policy supports pessimistic views. John Heskett (2002: 181) describes the reduction of the activities of the British Design Council and Rat für Fromgebung of Germany due to budget cuts. Recent British Council budget cuts closed its RED initiative in 2006, which was one of the best examples of design policy for governance.  John Heskett (2002: 182) and John Thackara on his blog, Doorsofperception.com, document the closing of the Netherlands Design Institute in 2000. H. Alpay Er (2002: 15) describes design policy in Turkey as a “negative case.” Design Management Institute discussions in 1993 were pessimistic about the necessity and viability of a US national design policy for industry (Kash 1993, McAusland 1993, Walton 1993, Walton 2004).

The reasons for this skepticism or pessimism vary, but are often tied to design policy’s failure to adequately respond to the social contexts and social issues of how policy is Designed in particular governments. I suggest that the structural bias of design policy for national economic competition is responsible for design policy failures for two reasons. First, design policy for national economic competition does not embed itself in the actual practices of government – the conduct of conduct that is essence of governance. Design innovation and promotion policies frame design as to-be-supported industries separate from the structures, training, information, environments, procedures, methods, forms, and communications that are the practices of government. While there are listed objectives for government procurement in some of the most successful design policies – the Danish National Design Policy comes to mind – they are of lower priority and often focus on the procurement of furniture or architecture.

Second, of those design policies that intend, often as a side benefit, to enhance the cultural “quality of life” of the public, they do so to the neglect of the important role of design in mediating trust in government. Exhibitions, competitions, and museums may succeed in promoting design, but the message is often design as “cool,” not design as necessary to one’s everyday self-governance and trust in the government. The DOTT07 project in Britain is an exception. Design policy for national economic competition treats government as a legal and economic abstraction. By adopting Foucault’s notion of governmentality, design policies can be created that engage in the tangible, real, and improvisational practices of government



This is a entry to discover today. I was just recounting my experience at last week's Public Health and Complex Systems symposium at the University of Michigan.


I think your assessment that design is framed "separate from the structures, training, information, environments, procedures, methods, forms, and communications that are the practices of government" dovetails nicely with some of the issues raised.

One of your colleagues directed me to your work after we shared a course in social networking analysis.

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