A design strategy is key to implementing joined-up thinking for our capital
Opinion: There is encouraging evidence of an appetite for new ideas at the highest level
Joined-up thinking: a photomontage by engineers Roughan O’Donovan of the new Liffey bridge, the Rosie Hackett, seen from O’Connell Bridge, with a tram passing over, part of a new project which will link the Luas Green and Red lines.
What do we talk about when we talk about design? Discussion of it is often confined to the lifestyle sections of our newspapers: attractive furniture and pleasantly uncluttered living spaces speak to certain aspirations as to how we might live our lives.
But design is about more than aesthetics and gloss and has a critical role to play in delivering innovation, economic growth and value for money. It can also deliver a fairer and more engaged society.
Design has been the Cinderella of the policymaking process in Ireland for too long.
This was not always the case. We started strongly by establishing the world’s first government-sponsored design agency, Kilkenny Design Workshops, in 1963. However, following financial difficulties State support was withdrawn from Kilkenny and in 1988 it shut.
In May 1999 the Opportunities in Design document published by Enterprise Ireland recommended the development of a national policy for Irish design supported by an interdisciplinary representational and advisory design body. However, these recommendations have since gathered dust. At a European level, however, change is afoot. The Europe 2020 Innovation Union initiative, whose motto is “More Jobs, Improved Lives, Better Society”, is firmly focused on the potential of a design-led approach to development and in particular design’s capacity to deliver “user-centred innovation”.
What this rather dry term means is that design starts from the user’s perspective and that new products, services and systems that address our needs are more effective, useful, long-lasting, delightful and, yes, profitable.
In an EU policy document published at the end of September, we are reminded that: “Although some European countries are world leaders in design, others lack a robust design infrastructure and design capability.”
While Ireland is not mentioned by name it is clear that we do indeed lack a “robust design infrastructure”.
Capability, however, is a matter we can be optimistic about. There is great capacity and talent among Irish designers across all disciplines. Yet there is no overarching champion for Irish design. The lack of a design strategy and of an implementation body hampers our ability to harness this design resource effectively.
It also makes it difficult to communicate the role design can play in delivering the systems, services and products that determine how well we make and manage our lives.
Put simply, cities that value and apply design in how they think, plan and act are more humane, more attractive and more competitive cities. What would Dublin be like if we adopted a design-led approach to decision-making and place-making?