A Design Nation is to Revive Again

Photo: Knut Bry. A View from DogA - the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture. The center was established as a meeting place for design, architecture and related subject areas.

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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. 

Øystein 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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