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What's next for Danish Design?

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Co-written by Steinar Valade-Amland

Danish Design epitomizes love for people and the simple things in life. When we crowdsourced the question: "What is Scandinavian Design" in 2012, it was discovered that designers found the region's design authentic, calm, restrained, uplifting, practical and yet inviting, playful and whimsical. This approach to design is rooted in tradition and in the social and ideological fabric from which Denmark is made. As other countries begin to address this question of design, one might ask, "What's next for Danish design?"

Over the past few decades, the small, 5.5 million member tribe of Denmark has become increasingly international and now consists of ten percent first generation immigrants and boasts a trade-fleet that handles fifteen percent of the worlds shipping cargo.

Through its six innovation centers across the globe, the Danish government supports its industry in harvesting new technologies and establishing new markets for its products and services. Why is it then that the outside world still associates Danish Design with high-end furniture, plastic-brick toys and cutting edge movies?

Denmark has a booming Creative Economy (eleven percent of GNP in 2013), however, the Danish design business consists primarily of small one to three man design offices that are often not able or motivated to grow and become more professional. They also fail to meet the demands of a growing and increasingly discriminating market for design services. More and more Danish companies across all sectors recognize the value added by design, as does the Danish government through increasing investments in the design of new or improved services for their public sector. Yet, the Danish Design sector still seems to be characterized by stagnation.

A 2009 government study of Danish firms applying design showed that design added ten percent to the companies' revenue, when integrated with the development processes. However, only an extra one percent when integrated with business and innovation strategies. This suggests a seed for possible future opportunities in Danish Design, but this seed needs to be carefully nurtured, in order to grow and prosper.

Skills: In general, design graduates are trained to solve problems by design, however, they are rarely sufficiently skilled to take on roles in complex value chains or understand business case thinking. Hence, design education on the graduate level needs to urgently recognize the need for change and for more comprehensive product development programs.

Structures: Many designers are adverse to the potential oblivion of being part of larger structures - they often see themselves as lone masters and can most likely thrive professionally with this attitude. However, the mismatch between the expectations of large corporations and public sector institutions, and the propositions of micro-sized design agencies continues to increase. Hence, the design industry now needs to quickly consolidate and reinvent their propositions.

Support: The design policies, for which Denmark became a role model and beacon for the rest of Europe and several Asian countries, seem to have been replaced by an expectation of self regulation and other, seemingly more complacent agendas. Policy makers and support agents, such as the Danish Design Centre, must now challenge the current stalemate and launch initiatives that address the future of Danish Design or risk being upstaged by other actors. Actors like KPMG, Accenture and other global consultancies that are offering more comprehensive propositions.

Unless Denmark's aspirations for growth are, once again, taken seriously within the Danish Design community, the Danish Design industry may soon be deemed irrelevant and no longer essential to Denmark.

Its time to address the question of "What's next for Danish Design?" with much more urgency than has been shown in the past decade.

Special thanks to Steinar Valade-Amland for researching and co-writing this article.