While the debate about what Norway will live off after the oil runs out continues in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the country’s design industry continues to rise with small steps as a promising alternative to diversify the economical activities of Norway and it is gaining attention in both the domestic and international scene.
The Norwegian Design Council (NDC) attributes this recent upsurge in the interest in Norwegian design to the work of a new generation of talented designers. The council, founded in 1963, supports projects, networks and organizations of these future talents and strives to strengthen links between de sign, business and policy to encourage professional development in the Norwegian design industry. Despite these struggles and the presence of successful Norwegian design companies, there are, however, still problems in the industry.
Norwegian Companies Left Behind in Innovation
One of the major challenges facing the sector lies in clarifying and communicating the value and potentials of design. Namely, the designers complain about the difficulty to convince other business sectors about the usefulness and function of design in the financial development beyond aesthetic. The numbers also support these arguments. The surveys carried out by Statistics Norway show that the level of innovation in Norwegian businesses is low.
Also, according to the European Innovation scoreboard for 2009, Norway is still way behind most EU countries when it comes to innovation in industry. Too few new products are introduced on the market every year and a small portion of Norwegian businesses introduce new or substantially changed products just because of the resistance to cooperation with design industry.
Design is more than Style and Detail
Moreover, Design Diagnosis, which was carried out as part of the Design driven Innovation Program (DIP) indicates a clear tendency of Norwegian companies being more successful than others by having an active and conscious relationship with design as a business tool, regardless of the industry.
Řystein Austad from StokkeAustad agrees on the nature of the problem stating that there is a tradition of not involving designers in Norway and designers often need to explain and justify what they do to potential clients, as some companies can have difficulty in understanding the value of designer involvement.
Austad also points out another challenge to design business: "The design scene in Norway is fragmented and coherent at the same time. On the one hand you have the designers, and then you have the industry, and on another side there is the government and their institutions and programs. These different parts function largely without any great or continuous interaction." Austad also notes that it is very hard to establish a design studio due to the lack of projects from the Norwegian industry.
He also sees Norway’s dependence on the petroleum industry hindering innovation and the creation of global brands, as other Scandinavian countries have done with great success.
Norway as a Design Nation
Nonetheless, Austad believes Norwegian design going in a positive direction. He suggests that it has a growing number of young and ambitious designers all eager to identify how Norwegian design should be in the 21st century. He also adds Norwegian design has a strong cultural foundation and hopes that Norway will be able to continue to brand itself as a design nation in the future.
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