On Friday, October 22, the first edition of the World Design Forum was held in Eindhoven, just prior to the Dutch Design Week. A successful edition. With an attentive audience of about 150 business and design leaders, six keynote speakers presented their view on the role of design and design thinking in reforming business processes.

Design thinking
The theme of the first World Design Forum was

‘Designers as Transformers: How Design Strategies are Shaping the Future of Business.’

The keynote speakers were asked to outline the new role of design on the cutting edge of innovation and business strategy. ‘Design thinking’ leads to new and successful strategies, efficient business processes and high quality innovation. But how does it work in practice, what are the pitfalls and what are the keys to success? What can design do for us and what can we do for design so that it can be used for a sustainable society?
Under the enthusiastic leadership of moderator Josephine Green, these questions were answered by Roberto Verganti (author ‘Design Driven Innovation’), Stefano Marzano (Chief Design Officer Philips), Roland Streule (Swatch Group, Rado), Stefan Pannenbecker (VP Design Nokia), Paul Iske (Chief Dialogues Officer ABNAMRO Bank) and Cees van Dok (Executive Creative Director frog design).

Essence of design
In their opening speeches, Rob van Gijzel, mayor of the city of Eindhoven, and Hans Robertus, director Design Cooperation Brainport and Dutch Design Week, emphasized the importance of a World Design Forum for the Brainport region. After that, the floor was given to Stefano Marzano. He held an animated story about ‘the next design’ in which he sketched a picture of designers who no longer work inside out but outside in. This change, according to Marzano, has been set in motion by the landing on the moon. Only then was man able to consider their own world from the outside. In his view, the moon landing also contributed to the realization that we have to focus much more on sustainability. Marzano: ‘Because our earth is all we have. We have to do with it.’ In Marzano’s vision, this is the best time ever for design. ‘This is the new renaissance.’ He sees different roles for design, as transformer, catalyst, articulator (between culture and industry) and educator (sustainability). But he emphasizes that design needs to distinguish between ‘wants and needs’. Marzano: ‘Design can help to accelerate transformation. We only run the risk of losing sight of the essence of design. And that is ‘creating wealth, not profit’. The core of its competence is beauty, nemesis and pathos.’

Vision and interpretation
Roberto Verganti pleaded for ‘giving meaning’, for the designers and visionaries. Verganti: ‘Vision is the most important feature with which a product or service can distinguish itself. It’s all about vision. Developing a vision is going to be far more important than developing ideas. Because with open innovation you can create ideas in an easy and inexpensive way. And if anyone can think along, what will be the role of design then? How will we define the future design instruments? What are the necessary skills?’ Vision and interpretation, as far as Verganti is concerned. He ended his story with three conclusions: Design is about the renewal of meaning. Renewal does not arise from the needs of users. The development of vision works best in a group with a diverse workforce in which also people from outside the network are represented. Apple was cited as an example, where an interior designer was included in the design team, because the computers would be used in the home environment.

Roland Streule held a speech about the difference between a good and a successful design. Using examples from his own company (Swatch Group, Rado), he showed that a design can win pretentious prizes, but that that does not guarantee a successful sale. Streule: ‘Success depends on trade – the product must be saleable – and on the consumer. In addition, design, materials and technology of a product have to be in the right balance with each other.’
Paul Iske pleaded strongly for collaboration: connecting worlds and connecting people. He defines innovation as an added value that results from applying knowledge in areas unfamiliar with the phenomenon. According to Iske innovation can only occur under certain conditions, with diversity as a key precondition. Because it is diversity that generates the dialogue. It is about asking questions, understanding and respect, and all parties need to work on that. Iske introduces the ‘creativity index’: the number of questions that you ask each day, multiplied by the times you laugh. With this, he illustrates that interest in and respect for others determines a culture in which innovation is possible.

‘Design strategies determine the future of the industry,’ claims Stefan Pannenbecker. ‘And vision is the context in which design can act. It is all about what design can do for society and humanity. It is not just about creating new products, but about creating culturally relevant products. Service design is the future. And for that you need to study human behavior, to see how you can add something to the welfare. Pannenbecker: ‘Designers are editors.’
The last keynote speaker, Cees van Dok, shares the vision of Pannenbecker that design can change companies. He sees designers as the drivers of change. Van Dok: ‘Frog design works from knowledge, technology, inspiration and impact with companies to develop and to market meaningful products, services and experiences. The primary focus is not on the users. Their behavior is being mapped, but the focus is not on their needs. You need to think for them, not ask them what they want. If mister Ford had done that we would have had faster horses now instead of cars. No, you have to zoom out and choose a new perspective. Improvement requires a change in mentality.’ He instances the traditional structure of businesses in departments that operate independently. ‘You have to start introducing a certain overlap. That will give cooperation a boost and everyone will be part of the dialogue.’
Although the lectures were very diverse, the speakers all agreed on one thing: the need for cooperation. Cooperation with industry, cooperation with other design disciplines, with researchers and technologists. Actually, with as many disciplines as possible. Because innovation is based on vision and vision is best developed in a multidisciplinary environment.
The conclusions of the keynote speakers all came down to one message:

Work from a vision, give meaning to design. Be modest, be cooperative. Collaborate. Respect others and try to understand them.

Only through cooperation is design able to create transformation and innovation in business and society.
The organizers of the seminar were very pleased with the outcome of the day and considered expanding the format in the future. World Design Forum on Health, on Mobility, on City Life, … on Design.

Read full report on WDF 2010