Design ecosystems and innovation policy in Europe


  • Anna Whicher Cardiff Metropolitan University


In 2015, 15 of the 28 European Member States had design included in national innovation policy and between 2012 and 2016, design action plans have been adopted by governments in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland and Latvia as well as by the European Commission. Long misunderstood by companies and government as styling, design is a user-centred approach to problem-solving that can be applied across the private and public sectors. Design has attracted the attention of policy-makers as a factor for innovation as part of a paradigm shift in Europe where the remit of innovation policy is expanding. In the same way that innovation policy is based on an analysis of the Innovation Ecosystem, design researchers have demonstrated that design policy should be based on an analysis of the Design Ecosystem. Finland was the first country to adopt the concept of a National Innovation System to inform innovation policy in 1992 and it was also the first country to adopt the concept of a Design Ecosystem to inform its design policy in 2013. The European Commission’s Action Plan for Design-driven Innovation encourages all European countries to integrate design into innovation policy and develop design action plans. However, this raises the fundamental question of how government can effectively develop design policy. Through a consensus building process with policy-makers, academics and design centre managers, various components of a Design Ecosystem were explored and tested. The processes resulted in a consolidated Design Ecosystem model with nine components: (1) users, (2) support, (3) promotion, (4) actors, (5) designers, (6) education, (7) research, (8), funding, and (9) policy. The Design Ecosystem model advocates that a policy should consider every aspect of the ecosystem to ensure a balance between supply of and demand for design expertise.

Keywords: design ecosystem, innovation policy, design policy.

Author Biography

Anna Whicher, Cardiff Metropolitan University

Anna’s main professional interest is in developing, implementing and evaluating policies using design methods. As Head of Design Policy at PDR, she responsible for developing partnerships, leading networks, conducting research, engaging users, co-creating policies and evaluating impact for governments, innovation agencies, sector councils and trade associations in the UK and across Europe.

Since 2009, she has been managing a portfolio of multi-million pound European, Research Council and Government contracts. For example, from 2009 to 2015, she coordinated the SEE (Sharing Experience Europe) network engaging with government to accelerate the up-take of design in innovation policies and programmes. SEE successfully integrated design into 18 policies and 48 programmes.

In addition, Anna is an elected board member of the Bureau of European Design Associations, a Design Council Expert on Design for Europe and a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Public Policy Advisory Group. She has also worked in the UK Parliament, the French Ministry of European Affairs and Siemens in Paris. Anna has completed a PhD benchmarking design for innovation policy.






Special Issue: Strategic Design Research Journal Volume 10