Denmark is a leading design nation, with a strong tradition that is admired internationally. At the Danish Design Centre we are proud of our Danish design heritage. At the same time we firmly believe in the coming of a new golden age of Danish design – beyond furniture or traditional forms. Our optimism is based on a growing body of evidence that design can make a difference far beyond what we are seeing today.
As a method, a mindset and a leadership tool, design can contribute to the creation of sustainable growth and help companies engage customers in new ways. enhancing productivity as well as their ability to choose correctly in developing new products. Design can downsize resources, create better and more sustainable services as well as improve the quality of life for the individual and for communities. Working systematically with design can contribute to answering a range of the questions facing contemporary society.
Design at the core of Danish values
Design is part of Denmark’s national narrative – which is something we share with our fellow Nordic countries. At one of the world’s largest conventions for technology, media and innovation, ’South by Southwest’ in Austin, Texas,, the Danish Design Center recently had the opportunity to host a session for a mixed Scandinavian/international audience consisting of business leaders and regular members of the public. The theme of the session was “Discovering the Nordic design DNA”. We introduced it by highlighting classic characteristics of Nordic design such as minimalistic, light, flexible, democratic, open, community-oriented. In terms of Nordic societal values, the conversation in Austin uncovered keywords such as openness, empathy, caretaking, community, and social conciousness. During the debate several of the panelists – which included designers, innovators, marketing executives – stated how these values were very much alive in their organisations and, more importantly, played a major role in differentiation and value proposition in their business.
Given the unique qualities of the Danish and Nordic design tradition, and their continued relevance today, it is remarkable that studies show that only 28 per cent of Danish businesses make the most of the potential of working with design – using it as a tool for innovation and business development at a strategic level. The quite low percentage gives room for improvement – but also for optimism: It does not have to be anything unreachable or difficult for the leadership to engage with design, and it most definitely does not have to be limited to specific branches or sectors. Today, startups, SME’s, large corporations, NGO’s and government organisations are all increasingly embracing design as an approach to creating desired change.
To design is to shape the future
My point is that the characteristic way that designers work – with systematic empathy and holistic thinking, user involvement, visualisation, exploration and quick ways of testing new solutions through prototyping – delivers something uniquely important at a time where companies all over the world are searching for new ways to innovate. Design – and especially our Danish design dna – has this empathy at it´s heart, as a value and as a tool. And businesses leveraging empathy, customer centricity and holistic thinking tend to win.
Danish design-led businesses ranging from icons such as LEGO, Bang & Olufsen and Grundfos to a new breed of successful service design agencies like Designit (now part of global it giant Wipro) show that design and designers are able to look beyond the realm of possibilities that companies and their leaders were able to see themselves. By utilising design and designers, leaders can unleash their organisations’ creative force and potential. Leadership through design allows companies to find new ways of – literally – shaping their future.