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Christian Bason

EU design leadership

By May 1st 2012

In the spring of 2011 the European Commission asked 14 design experts for recommendations on design a driver for innovation and growth in Europe. MindLab is part of this group, the European Design Leadership Board.

But is it possible to develop a design policy without involving a wider circle of users and stakeholders? And should new methods of “co-design” not be applied in such a process? For these reasons, the European Design Leadership Board invited a select group of 65 people to develop policy propositions along with them. Aalto University serves as secretariat for the expert panel and designed the workshop in collaboration with MindLab.

The expert panel will issue a final report of recommendations, in part based upon the workshop sessions, to EU Commissioner Tajani, who is responsible for European policy regarding enterprise and industry matters. The Commissioner will receive the report at a ceremony in Brussels late June.

Below are photos from the workshop session by MindLab and a short film by Aalto University.


  1. Charlotte Stockwell kl. 11.04 2/05/2012

    Congratulations on the appointment. It looks like a really exciting process to be part of.

  2. Rob Nelson, designer kl. 23.29 25/05/2012

    @Charlotte Stockwell: it looks the exact opposite! Boring and creative-less. Let me illustrate.

    It is clearly a pattern to see post-it notes everywhere in these so-called “design” events. Eventhough post-it notes are thoroughly antithetic from one very important thing design implies: making sure all the details, all the tiny bits of information produced while supposed to be creative (typically what should’ve happened there) are not forgotten. In this kind of event, though, post-it notes usually end up in trash (with the plastic wine glasses). And when they don’t, they end up being compiled in a huge PDF file that is sent to participants who consequently never read the thing.

    That is because ultimately the participants, these self-proclaimed “design experts”, know why they were really there: buy a new suit, travel to a different place, congratulate each other on their new jobs and responsibilities within their respective agencies, and make sure no one will try and make others design actual things, because in these events no one’s really ever designed anything. Rather everyone gives orders to actual designers, and pays them half of what they earn to just get together in Helsinki.



  3. Christian Bason kl. 11.24 26/05/2012

    Hello Rob

    I recognise that “real” design is not about post-it notes. But I also get the sense from your comment that you haven’t been involved in policy making — a process of understanding the experience, expertise and insight of multiple stakeholders, and bringing these multiple perspectives constructively into play in an environment full of politics, power, complexity and — not least — uncertainty.

    In such a context the challenge is not (just) to create tangible “products”. It is to uncovee theories of change which can lead to better societal outcomes, leveraging multiple resources and taking into account the rich context of what people, organisations and nation states are already doing.

    Collaborative workshops such as the one we assisted with in Brussels may not be novel or even useful in your world. But in the world of policymaking it is my strong conviction that they are. Ohh, and of course our Board and the Secretariat spent days and weeks subsequently working the output of the workshop into our upcoming policy suggestions. To think we wouldn’t take this seriously is, I think, to underestimate our intelligence.

  4. Rob Nelson, designer kl. 13.57 26/05/2012

    Hello Christian,

    to be honest, after reading your reply, I am struck again at how often I read this kind of argument coming people working with policy making and designing public services in general. From what I always read, I get the sense that these same people are convinced to be the only designers that have to handle the process of “understanding the experience, expertise and insight of multiple stakeholders, and bringing these multiple perspectives constructively into play”.

    Guess what: all designers in all fields have to do that, that’s actually probably a lot of what design is about! Making people from different fields work together, and ultimately create better things/services/policies together. If you may, please look into it more closely (you sound like you’ve got a very vague idea of what product designers actually do): when a product designer designs a product, he/she has to convince the marketing heads that it’s worth going this or that direction, convince the engineers that making an effort on trying to fit a square into a circle is worth it, convince the bosses that in the long run it’s better to spend more money on quality… and so on. Isn’t that “politics, power, complexity, uncertainty”?

    As a matter of fact, I am a service designer. I’ve been advised to have a look at what the Mindlab does. And clearly, when you guys are posting pictures of yourselves getting together and deciding that you are the “european leaders of design”, the “design experts”, I feel sad.


  5. Christian Bason kl. 23.16 26/05/2012

    Dear Rob,


    You have sighed.

    You now feel sad.

    I am intrigued.

    Would you kindly share with me a concrete, detailed example of how and why it is that what you do is so much better, and how it is valuable? And I really hope that what you can share is a specific public policy issue, because if it is about designing a for-profit service or product I will have a very hard time understanding what you are talking about. There is a big difference between creating stuff that people want to buy, and things that create better social outcomes. Such as the difference between creating a better dish washing liquid and helping unemployed persons get their life back, and a job again.

    I am getting the feeling that at some point, someone has disappointed you. I am really sorry about that, but would you tell me why is that our problem?

    Kind regards,


  6. Rob Nelson kl. 16.39 27/05/2012

    Dear Christian,

    on this web page, you are publishing your doings, as well as claiming several things. In doing so, you are exposing those things that you do to criticism, and same goes with those things that you claim. Since I’ve got the opportunity to give my opinion, thanks to this comments area, I’m taking it. Nothing to do with being “disappointed by someone” or something, I’m going very well thank you ;), just willing to share a point of view.

    Now to the point: I’m saying (with a bit of sarcasm I suppose, sorry if that hurt) that I fully disagree with the fact that it is harder to design “better social outcomes” than “creating stuff people want to buy”. It’s all design. With different constraints, I’ll give you that: one has to do with a bit more politics issues, the other with a bit more plastic injection issues, and some other with specific accessibility issues for disabled people (a lot of architects and designers like to deal with the latter by the way). But please look at what Frog designed in South Africa, addressing HIV propagation, while these guys also design phones, cars, computers, “stuff” as you call it. Check out Viktor Papanek, Jean Prouve… Walter Gropius and his fellow Bauhaus friends. They had “social outcomes” ideals while still designing “stuff”!

    You are clearly aware that design is a versatile occupation, that designers can take part in so many different projects with so many different constraints… I am convinced that one’s not harder or better than the others, but rather that they’re all part of trying to make this complex world a better place to live in. Ok, most are part of trying to do that, I’ll give it to you again! That’s the only thing I’ve said from the top. Contrary to what you seem to be implying, at no point have I claimed that my doings are better. I’m no expert, just a designer.

    My first reaction came hard because of the title of this blog post, which I find very presomptuous. I understand the EC might have inspired it, but still. Same goes with the term “design experts” (come on, is that even a thing?!). Helped me understand that probably nobody on the panel is an actual designer, or has designed anything for a long time. Am I wrong? Are you a designer yourself?

    I’m getting the feeling that you rarely get contradicted on this blog and that it upsets you. Sincerily, sorry if that’s so.

    Kind regards,


  7. Christian Bason kl. 00.47 31/05/2012

    Dear Rob,

    When we launched this site a few years ago I stated that it was “for everyone with a passion for transforming the public sector and creating value for society.” I went on to say (the text is still here): “No matter where you are, we hope you will let yourself be engaged with us and the themes we address. In short, it is our ambition that MindBlog will be the most valuable place to harvest inspiration and knowledge when you work with public sector innovation.”

    Obviously this is also to expose ourselves to criticism, but as you can gather from the text we rather hoped it would be through inquiry and dialogue, not hard claims. So, moving away from hard claims on your side and on my side, I read from your last entry that we might both recognise this: Design offers something valuable to the world. Whether it is applied in private, civic or public sector contexts, it is worth nurturing.

    I am not a designer, but I would consider myself an expert on how design is being applied in some public sector organisations, in part because I have seen it happen at MindLab for over five years, in part because I am halfway through a PhD thesis on that very topic. It is however not design on its own that can make the difference. It is through a transdisciplinary interplay with methods from other sciences such as the human (ethnography), the technical (it) and the social (public management), as well as other fields. We must be a bit humble about what design can do on its own.

    I should stres that we did by no means intend to propose that MindLab displays “EU design leadership” — which apparently caught your attention in the first place. The title only passively refers to the name of the expert group we worked with in Brussels, the full title being the “European Design Leadership Board”. But if it can be misunderstood we should change it.

    Rob, I am glad we have had this dialogue, perhaps after all achieving a bit of what we hoped for when we launched this blog. I have no doubt, at least, that we both are passionate about the promise of design as a contribution to the creation of a better society.

    Kind regards,


  8. Nur Alam Se Msi kl. 09.41 3/10/2013

    It’s an amazing piece of writing in support of all the web viewers;
    they will take benefit from it I am sure.

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