“Design Policy Conference”: design is now indispensable for the future of cities

“Design Policy Conference”: design is now indispensable for the future of cities

The World Design Policy Conference, one of the Signature Events of World Design Capital Valencia 2022 and the World Design Organization®, was held with resounding success on 3 and 4 November at the Valencia Congress Centre.

The event was attended by more than five hundred people including delegates from companies, organizations and institutions that consider design to be a key value in their corporate and growth strategies. The meeting represented “the beginning of the end of World Design Capital Valencia”, as its director Xavi Calvo explained in the inauguration. At the venue for this event, a building designed by Norman Foster, the participants examined major urban challenges that are deeply rooted in the activities of society, and the generation of new design policies in the Mediterranean region.

The mission of this initiative – supported by the IVACE, Valencia City Council, the Provincial Council of Valencia and the Fundació del Disseny de la Comunitat Valenciana, with Renfe as its official transport, with chairs by Actiu on the stage and the paper-truck by Fedrigoni in the hall, as well as gifts for the speakers provided by Actiu, Gandía Blasco and PackCo, Brand and Packaging – was to constitute a durable meeting point that would enable progress to be made in the generalization and adoption of design policies on a global scale. To this end “we have the opportunity to listen to the best in the world, working from the point of view of design on public and private policies,” commented the president of World Design Capital Valencia, Marisa Gallén.

Good design solves problems, great design prevents them – Brandon Gien

The congress was structured around five main themes in which design has and will have an opportunity to provide solutions: action plans, the transformation of cities, social changes, education and the promotion of design itself as a necessary tool for society, each of which benefitted from the presence of international experts on the subject such as Ezio Manzini (president of DESIS Network), Alok Nandi (professor of design, creativity and innovation at the Institut Paul Bocuse), Hanna Harris (Chief Design Officer of the city of Helsinki), Brandon Gien (CEO of Good Design Australia), Anna Whicher (head of design policy at the International Design and Research Centre) and Leyla Acaroglu, sustainability strategy.

Comparing experiences from different points on the planet, it is clear that there is no single formula that is valid for the whole world. However, numerous lessons can be learned and adapted to different contexts. All the perspectives were laid out at the World Design Policy Conference: top-down initiatives from the institutions, or bottom-up originating in civil society, national governmental strategies as in the case of Australia or actions at a local level such as the Consell Local del Disseny de València as explained by Joan Ribó, Mayor of Valencia, at the inauguration press conference of the congress: “a pioneering consultative body formed by a team of external professionals, independent from the municipal government, who will advise all the areas of the local administration transversally.” Design action plans are instruments of proven efficiency as shown by experience, despite which they have never been implemented in Spain. However, it was also proposed that this vision aimed at promoting design could be transcended by another, more global and more focused on how design can help the world. The Minister for Culture and Sport, Miquel Iceta, echoed the objective of the World Design Policy Conference: “This congress aims to generate a more fruitful relationship with the sector. The issues dealt with at this conference are key, but it is more important to know how to apply design locally and globally. The impulse that has been generated from Valencia has served to align the sector, to make it visible and to communicate how this ecosystem forges links, improves processes and generates wealth.” He added that “cultural industries represent 3.4% of gross domestic product in Spain. Of this group, 22% responds to design.”

All the participants pointed to different initiatives to bring institutions closer to the design profession on a road with two-way traffic and they called on professionals to rethink their role in a complex and changing reality.

Thursday, 3 November

The congress opened with a conference by Carlos Moreno, promotor of the idea of the 15-minute city, in which he reflected on the core concepts for the necessary changes in cities. The design of services in people’s immediate vicinity is the key principle of this new way of living, not by magic but transit-oriented, as a planning policy that makes it possible to create this city ecosystem, and the players and citizens that form part of it.

Anna Whicher, head of design policy of the International Design and Research Centre, reiterated the acknowledgment by governments of the value of design, while calling on attendees to reflect on a crushing sentence: “Design changes all the time. How can we support its professionalization and move forward with the major changes and advances?”

On the discussion panel that brought Thursday morning to a close, Francesco Molinari of designscapes.eu insisted that “We must avoid advertising design in concrete terms, rather we should see design as the solution to problems.”

Echoing the words of the president of the World Design OrganizationDavid Kusuma, who, during the inauguration of one of the Signature Events of World Design Capital Valencia 2022, celebrated “how the city has become united in new ways, consolidating its commitment to promote not only the city but also the region through design-driven policies and innovation,” Hanna Harris and Gisele Raulik Murphy on discussion panel II “Changing cities through design” commented on the difference between design policies, policies for design and policies through design: “Cities should become places where there is a greater understanding and where the here and now come together with long-term plans. When we take learning to the street, we should try to use design powerfully.”

In “Rethinking design for social change”, Ezio Manzini, president of DESIS Network, and professor and consultant Brigitte Borja de Mozota attempted to see positive alternatives through design to “the multiple crisis: environmental, social and political” in which we live. “In the midst of conditions that are heading towards a catastrophic result” we have “good reasons to talk about change, but it is not just a technological change. It is a social change or, to put it better, socio-technological.” And “rethinking design is rethinking the profound philosophy about what we are as human beings.” To this end, “the moment has come to think about whether we contribute new knowledge to projects, and what that knowledge is. This applies to all human beings: we are all silent designers.”

Friday, 4 November

Design awareness took on the leading role for the discussion panel that opened the day on Friday.

Päivi Tahkokallio, CEO of Tahkokallio Design+, tried to broaden the outlook of the attendees: “We are often focused on design, and this reflects what Molinari said: that it is not a question of trying to convince others about design, but to show the results that design can achieve. What can we do at global level? Proximity works, but it is relative. When you think that you have understood, we change the perspective. I believe that this is relevant if we want to be successful as a community that wants to change things.”

Dr Brandon Gien, CEO of Good Design Australia, showed that unity is strength in the case of his country. The Australian council, founded over 60 years ago, is formed by figures from different areas, not only designers, and the result has been a totally revised strategy in the food and culture sectors via the circular economy. “Good design solves problems, the best design prevents them.”

Whilst with “Design awareness: can we make it mainstream?” Alok Nandi, professor of design, creativity and innovation, convinced his audience that “we cannot generate experiences, but we can generate the conditions that enable these experiences.” According to Nandi, we are blocked by the problem/solution dichotomy: “We have to go further and understand the paradoxes in our context and requestion the systems.” At the end of the day, “Design is about making interactions between fiction, function and form.”

Pradyumna Vyas of the WDO® ended the event by concluding that sustainability models and design policies should go hand in hand. “The general public need to know that the products they buy are sustainable, and it is necessary to build standardized approaches to tackle the problems.”

Leyla Acaroglu closed the congress by commenting along the same lines. The sustainability provocateur encouraged a change in the system in favour of the circular economy, emphasizing the responsibility of professional designers: “Design is the tool that has created problems too, that is affecting the planet, because everything is focused on consumption. This year, from 22 July to 31 December we are consuming the resources of the future. It is Earth Overshoot Day. The problems of the past are in our present, and we as designers must create the future, create regenerative systems.”

The result of this congress and its conclusions should serve as a stimulus that will ease the way for design to play a relevant role in public policies, from the perspective of rigor and good criteria in its application. A result that can modify existing policies, facilitating a legacy in political management, benefitting the design community and, above all, the public.


Prior to the conferences on the 3rd and 4th November, a session was held on the 2nd November at Valencia Conference Center itslef, which included examples relating to design policies, especially in local spheres. The session begun with the presence of a delegation from the Design Centre of the Philippines, which presented its initiatives in the country and the use of design as a tool for development.

It was followed by the participation of Valencian associations and institutions that have launched initiatives in this field, as Valencia has been already carrying out remarkable design policy projects. The revitalization of institutional design contracting, as well as the launch of the Design Council, among other milestones – such as the Design Foundation of the Valencian Community and the Design Impact Observatory promoted by the ADCV – only consolidate and reaffirm not only Valencia’s maturity in the field of design, but also its position as a pioneering city in this field.

The problems of the past are in our present, and we as designers must create the future, create regenerative systems.