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The UAE has been at the forefront of embracing industrial design as a key economic lever Image Credit: Supplied

Today’s consumers are inundated with an expansive breadth of new product and service developments that have revolutionised our way of living. Indeed, iconic designs are all around us, from smartphones and video games, minimalist furniture, and electrical appliances to aeroplanes, transport, digital solutions, and medical devices.

We have come a long way from the nascent stages of industrial design to today’s sophisticated innovations that promise to cater to the needs of economies and societies in a way that is user-oriented, functional, aesthetically appealing, and competitive.

Against this backdrop, governments must consider industrial design as a creative force that is shaping today’s economies, in addition to addressing many critical challenges that demand design-intensive solutions. Many governments and enterprises have established dedicated design-focused agencies or units to incorporate and bolster design activities within their operations.

Laudable benefits

This had led to many laudable benefits, as a significant body of evidence is demonstrating, such as improved sales performance, high innovation, competitive advantage, business growth, and job creation.

In 2018, consulting firm McKinsey published a study on the value of design in business, resorting to data fetched from 300 publicly listed companies over five years and covering various industries. Researchers concluded that design-intensive companies succeeded in generating industry benchmark growth by a ratio of two to one, in addition to having higher revenues and returns to shareholders.

Considering the abundance of evidence boasting the value of design, it comes to no surprise how many design-intensive economies are paving the way in support of innovators who will go on to fashion groundbreaking design solutions. There are many lessons to learn from those economies who are at the forefront of the design realm.

Finland is a fantastic illustration of a country that has leveraged the power of design to boost economic returns and elevate societal quality of life. Interestingly, its design companies generated a staggering turnover €12.3 billion in 2018. Celebrated worldwide for its gorgeous Scandinavian minimalist aesthetics and ingenuous designs, Finnish design has been leading many new product developments and service re-engineering projects.

Its national Design Finland Programme includes numerous trailblazing programs, such as introducing design literacy within early childhood education curricula and school education, deploying special design education programs for public sector employees to empower them in reimagining public services, and publishing design tool kits to promote design-led activities, such as crowdsourcing, co-design, prototype design, and piloting.

Meanwhile, many countries have dedicated regulations that protect designers’ creative ideas from unauthorised imitation or production from third parties. Leading examples include South Korea’s intellectual property system, which has a smooth registration process for specific requirements for patents, coupled with the Industrial Design Protection Act to protect intellectual property rights.

Within the Middle East region, the UAE has been at the forefront of embracing industrial design as a key economic lever. The newly established Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology in the UAE has been a strategic decision to boost the country’s industrial sector. A special policy suite has been formulated with many game-changing measures, such as talent attraction, provision of design-supportive infrastructure and equipment for innovators, logistical support, technological advancement, and provision of raw materials used during manufacturing.

Governments with successful track-records in industrial design have introduced a number of progressive policies. Understanding consumer needs and global challenges can help channel design efforts towards tailored solutions.

Education is at the heart of such a policy, whereby world-class design programs are incorporated in school curricula and full-fledged courses are offered in universities, fully equipped with the latest technologies and equipment to support innovators.

For instance, Japan’s leading universities are offering state-of-the-art industrial design programs that merge the notions of aesthetics, science, and engineering together with behavioural science to enable students to create groundbreaking products or services.

Global value chains

A suite of essential services could support the work of design-intensive companies, such as application for funding support, providing incubation hubs and design spaces with incorporation incentives, advisory support, local and foreign matchmaking programs to improve global value chains, speedy patent registration services, and tax reliefs.

A special regulation on protecting the intellectual property rights of designs should also be enacted. Moreover, fostering strategic partnerships between research centers, academic institutions, public sector agencies, and private enterprises can ensure home-grown innovations reach a critical market mass.

A special media campaign needs to be crafted to create awareness among various target audiences about the importance of industrial design as a key economic and social tenet. Documentaries could highlight the unique industrial designs that instigated breakthroughs in the way we live today. Furthermore, the theme of industrial design merits a spotlight at famous trade expositions and shows, in addition to general public exhibitions celebrating the contributions of innovative designs in bettering the quality of our lives and bolstering our economies.

A number of world-class design museums have been established to feature permanent exhibitions on the subject of design. To illustrate, the Design Museum in London awes visitors with its gorgeous architectural and interior beauty, in addition to housing a design collection houses a marvellous collection from the nineteenth century to modern-day innovations, spanning key design elements, such as fashion, furniture, architecture, product and graphic design, digital media, and transport. On the other hand, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York boasts a stunning collection of over 210,000 design objects covering 30 centuries of history.

Governments can certainly leverage the ingenuity of its creative workforce to embrace industrial design as a core tenet of their economies. Its potential contributions can reach far and wide in today’s evolving economies.

Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and literature