She’s the project lead of the Design for Europe, lead by the Design Council, the programme co-funded by the European Commission with the mission to support, from 2014 to 2016, what has design-driven innovation across Europe. With a great amount of experience gathered within this initiative, we asked PeiChin Tay to give us a detailed perspective of what has been made, what sort of progressions were achieved and what could be expected for the future.

By Tiago Krusse
Photo and image: Courtesy of the Design Council


What is the Design for Europe? Who came up with the idea and how it was planned?
Design for Europe is a three-year programme (2014-2016) co-funded by the European Commission to support design-driven innovation across Europe. Over recent years, there has been increasing recognition and support at the European Commission (EC) about the value and importance of design. In 2013, the EC published an Action Plan for Design-Driven Innovation which aims to accelerate the take-up of design in innovation policies and to create the capacity and competencies needed to implement these policies. As part of the Action Plan, the Commission called for the creation of a web platform to bring together those interested in design-driven innovation. Design for Europe was thus born.
Also referred to as the European Design Innovation Platform, Design for Europe aims to increase the use of design for innovation and growth across Europe. It is primarily delivered through a web platform ( and an active programme of engagement that brings together knowledge and best practices of design for innovation from across the private, public and policymaking sectors in Europe.

Who makes part of this programme and how much investment is there from the European Union?
Design for Europe is co-funded at €3.8m by the European Union. It is led by Design Council with the support of 13 pan-European consortia partners:
ARC Fund, Bulgaria; Birmingham City University, UK; Danish Design Centre, Denmark; dŠola, Slovenia; Estonian Design Centre, Estonia; Invest Northern Ireland, UK; KEPA Business and Cultural Development Centre, Greece; La 27è Région, France; Lancaster University, UK; Luxinnovation, Luxembourg; Nesta, UK and Politecnico di Milano, Italy.

When did it start and which major achievements would you like to underline?
The project commenced in 2014 and has received a lot of interest, which shows just how much appetite is out there. Over 47,000 people have visited the site, and the partners have engaged with over 4,500 people face-to-face across all EU member states.
In its second year of operation, Design for Europe made significant progress towards achieving its goal, of raising awareness and capability of design for innovation across the EU. On the platform, we offer high quality content and we curate them for the best user experience. We are also experiencing a growing momentum of community participation through our forum channels (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) and have amassed over 12,500 social media followers so far. So far, we have delivered or been present at 72 events, promoting the use of design in businesses, public sector and policymaking. Our established network of 46 European Ambassadors has effectively been creating a ripple effect of design awareness through their networks, and we have already seen some concrete outcomes.

How the work has been developed and what kind of obstacles were found?
The project has moved from broad awareness-raising to a more sophisticated model, making a deep impact by supporting the European regions that are less advanced/widespread in their use of design. Design for Europe has been enterprising in brokering new opportunities and testing new approaches, such as co-designing a bespoke programme of support for specific countries. This is not without challenges – as policymakers are one of our key target audience, we have experienced some barriers as a result of changes in governments and consequently, priorities and support for design. Whilst we continue to engage policymakers, we also find different ways to support bottom-up initiatives.
The other challenge that we have encountered is of the shortage of design skills – as we drum up support and create demand for design thinking, some countries do not yet have a steady supply of design skills to meet the requirements.

Why it was important to come up with this initiative?
On the European level, we know that the economy needs innovation to grow. There is compelling evidence that design-driven innovation is important as it can be a strong driver for economic growth. The Design Value Index 2014 showed that over the last 10 years, international design-led companies have maintained significant stock market advantage, outperforming the Standard & Poor’s 500 index by an extraordinary 219%. Design Council’s latest research shows that research shows design contributes £71.7bn to UK economy and our Design Leadership programme shows that, for every £1 invested in design, the business can expect over £20 increased revenue and over £5 increased exports.
Design for Europe brings visibility of the role and value of design to a broad audience. It is a one-stop destination that brings together the best practice of design; shares knowledge, experience and skills across Europe; and links up a community of people interested in this subject matter. Ultimately, Design for Europe equips businesses, public sector organisations and policymakers with the practical tools they need to innovate. Design for Europe is just the beginning, there is a lot more that needs to be done.

What sort of perception do you get from the level of the design-driven innovation across Europe?
The emphasis of the project as outlined in the EC Action Plan was on “closing the divide between advanced regions and those lagging behind in applying design-driven innovation”.
There is common recognition that while some European countries like the Scandinavian countries and the UK are world leaders in this field, others are just beginning to embrace design as an economic driver. This seems to be broadly true, but we have found very interesting examples of so-called ‘modest and moderate innovator’ countries (who score low on the EU Innovation Scoreboard) like Estonia who have been extremely innovative in integrating design-driven innovation in the development of public services. In Luxembourg, we have seen an effective model of bottom-up initiatives like the Luxembourg Design Action Group that has made incremental changes over the years.
We have also experienced much interest from countries like Lithuania, Hungary, Ireland, Malta, Spain, Portugal and Poland, and are working closely with them to accelerate the uptake of design. Through Design for Europe, we are keen to create real impact, encourage more knowledge exchange between different countries/regions, and to bring more of such examples to light.

When will it be a more comprehensive attitude from European leaders about the key role of design in the economic development?
The European Commission has referenced user-driven innovation in the Innovation Union flagship initiative, so there is top level support. We have engaged a range of European policymakers, MEPs and business leaders, who have expressed strong support and recognition that innovation and design are key to Europe’s success in the global race. At our inaugural summit, titled ‘European Growth by Design’, a strong call to action from the high-level European speakers was loud and clear: get Chief Design Officers into the boardrooms of major European companies; train EC officials in design methods; and position design as a differentiator for products and services in a hyper-globalised world.
“The role of design in corporations is maturing, many corporations are setting a place for design at the board, and the role of the Chief Design Officer is to be the catalyst for transformation, helping the culture of these companies to further develop and further embed design into their core strategies.”, Stefano Marzano, Former Chief Design Officer, Royal Philips and Electrolux Group.
The strong support was further echoed in a more recent event on European manufacturing held in Brussels, where Christian Ehler MEP (Committee on Industry, Research and Energy; Chair of Creative Industries InterGroup) spoke about how the creative and cultural industries are the unique selling points of Europe. Similarly, Slawomir Tokarski (DG GROWTH, EC), Luke Logan (Rolls Royce), Sean Carney (Philips), and a number of MEPs signalled a similar message.
The Commission has recently launched a call for ideas for the European Innovation Council, and this could be a good opportunity to do more with design. As well as supporting the use of design, the European Commission have begun to explore the use of a design-led approach to policy formulation and implementation.

How has been the reaction and the level of commitment shown from the different players found along the way?
We have received a lot of interest in the project, surpassing our initial expectations and targets. For instance, we have a network of 46 European Ambassadors who are helping us voluntarily to promote the project to their networks. There is real effort and commitment from a range of stakeholders (business intermediaries, public sector, policy-maker, academics, design community, etc) to raise awareness, exchange knowledge, and advance design development in their own areas. The Luxembourg Design Action Group example I mentioned earlier is a good one, and we are keen to share this model and support other countries to adapt this and implement their own.
Our audience have also been helpful in submitting useful content and some users have even helped us to translate our case studies (e.g., to Bulgarian and Portuguese), in order to share them with a wider audience. We are experiencing a growing momentum of community participation through the various social and face-to-face channels. Overall, we are very glad that there is immense interest in what we are doing, which gives us confidence and ambition to aim far beyond our initial project targets.

Why were business, public sector and policy selected as main targets?
To strengthen Europe’s competitiveness and to promote jobs and growth, it was critical to engage business intermediaries and businesses. And of course, policymakers play a vital role in underpinning this development and in setting out short and long-term plans towards the integration of design in innovation policies and/or creating design policies. The public sector plays a key role too, not least due to their procurement of design services. Design methods can help drive public sector renewal and efficiencies, which is much-needed in a time of budget tightening.
A continuous and joined-up dialogue with various industry leaders, regional and national governments, academia and the design community is supported through Design for Europe. This holistic eco-system of different players is fundamental towards the sustainable advancement of design-driven innovation.

What important actions are scheduled for this year?
The final funded-year of the project will see us intensifying our work in selected countries like Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Spain, Portugal and Poland, who have approached us for help to advance design development in their countries/regions, and have also shown readiness to pilot new initiatives. The objective is on creating measurable impact on the ground. The highlight of this year will also be our final summit which will take place in Tallinn, Estonia on 6th October, where we will share our success stories and future plans. If you would like to join us, please email

Will Design for Europe continue for the following years?
Our work in the countries mentioned above gives us the opportunity to test potential future business models for Design for Europe beyond our initial funded phase (2014-2016), which we hope will help us build a strong pipeline of future projects and partners. There’s evidence to suggest that there is demand for Design for Europe’s expertise and events, which backs our ambition to continue the project with a more refined scope. In design terms, you could say that we have built a series of prototypes of design support, continuously refined it based on user needs, and are in the process of developing a version 2.0 to take further beyond 2016. We hope to garner funding and support for our continuation. We have built a strong foundation and a growing community with huge potential, it would be a shame to stop there.