“I think my message to the general public would be to not stand for anything that’s less than perfect”


Deborah Dawton, a member of the European Design Leadership board, is the chief executive of a trade association in the UK that represents the design industry. She’s also the president of BEDA, which is the Bureau of European Design Associations.

“My involvement in the Design Leadership board is because of my role in BEDA. If the European Commission is assessing the role of design on the level of the whole of Europe, it makes sense that a representative of the only European level organization is on the assessing body”, said Dawton. “I have an insight into what’s happening in design across Europe, both from the point of view of design promotion, as well as design organizations like ours, and individual design professional associations.”

Deborah would see more businesses take advantage of design and what it has to offer. “I don’t mean just from the point of increased output and profits. Design has an ability to transform businesses. It helps us to create better environments for people to work in, it can help us feel more appreciated by the companies we work for, and it can obviously help improve the systems within which we live.”

Deborah cites two concrete examples of how design can make our lives easier: public transport and self-administered medication. “I have seen design that can transform transport systems so that older people can get on and off buses more easily. I’ve seen design transform the way the children can self-administer drugs in such a way that it makes them less scared and enables them to cope with the condition they’ve got. Imagine a Europe where all businesses and all public services had that level of design integrated in them. We would be living in environments that work for us, that have been specified for us, the way we want to use them and the way we want to live in the future.”

“I think my message to the general public would be to not stand for anything that’s less than perfect. We have the design capability to design the best systems, the best houses, the best transport systems, the best old people’s homes, and the best hospital environments. We have businesses that are capable of designing and manufacturing the best products that take in account how we want to live and how we want to work today.” On the business side it is important to realize that design is not just about the product that comes out of the factory door, but it is also about the business strategy and how you get there. “We need to show them how these processes work, how design can be about the manufactured product or the service, but also about the way of thinking and a way of doing business.”

Deborah has found the process of working in the Leadership Board quite challenging. She applauds the European Commission for allowing the board to work in a very different way compared to that to which it is accustomed, and cites the open ended workshops of last spring as a good example. “I think it was quite a landmark move for the commission to allow something like that to happen, where they couldn’t predefine what the outcome was going to be. I think that that’s the challenge we’ve got, since when you start on a design journey, you don’t know what the outcome is going to be. You know there is a problem, but you don’t know what the solution is.”

According to Deborah, Europe has the best designers in the world and some of the best businesses on a global scale. “I think that to develop and to create a culture of design in business we need to bring the two groups together. If that’s the outcome of this group, then it will have been a success.”

Deborah Dawton’s interview at the European Design Innovation Summit


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