Rachel Cooper: Future of European Design

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Rachel Cooper, member of the European Design Leadership Board, is a professor of design management and policy at the Lancaster University (UK). She has been doing design research for 20 years in multidisciplinary groups. Her work has focused on addressing complex challenges using design and design research.

“All designers believe that we create the material world, and the material world has an effect on everybody. So whatever designers create affects the economy, the environment, and the wellbeing of people. The challenge here is that often the rest of the world does not see that.”

When asked about how design helps drive innovation, business and industry, she says that designers think about the future and frequently see trends and opportunities before anyone else. “Designers are often the first people who can turn intangible ideas into something tangible. We need to ensure that European industry is able to tap into that imagination, that thinking.”

Rachel believes that design can contribute significantly to wellbeing in Europe. “Designers need to work creatively with other people on ways to reduce the consumption of water and energy, and to design systems and places that improve quality of life and wellbeing.”

According to Rachel, design has always been very strong in Europe. “We have had design embedded in our education, with internationally renowned designers coming from Italy, France, Scandinavia – all across Europe.”

“I see many graduates from all over the world coming for training in Europe. They used to stay here, but now they are going back home. We need to make sure that we retain competitive design capability, and that this capability is used to the benefit of Europe. We have really good design history, education and skills, but we might lose them, just like we have lost our manufacturing in some parts of Europe.”

For her, the leadership board is a unique opportunity to understand perspectives on design from across Europe and across industries. In her opinion, the board represents the first chance of looking at design and building a dialogue on design at a pan-European level.

According to Rachel, design research should be outward-looking research embedded in all industries: “We need to ensure that we train not only design researchers, but also academics across different disciplines who understand the value of design and have design researchers in their teams.”

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