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 gains attention in both 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 design, business and policy to encourage professional development in the Norwegian design industry. Despite these struggles and the presence of the successful Norwegian design companies, there are, however, still problems in the industry.
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 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.
On the other hand, Design Diagnosis, which was carried out as part of the Design-driven Innovation Programme (DIP) indicates a clear tendency about that companies having an active and conscious relationship with design as a business-tool are more successful than others, regardless the industry.
Øystein Austad from StokkeAustad agrees on the nature of the problem stating that there is not a tradition of involving designers in Norway, and they often need to explain and justify what they do to potential clients, as some companies can have difficulty to understand the value of involving a designer in their projects. 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 are 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 hinders to innovate and create global brands, as the other Scandinavian countries have done with great success.
Norway as a Design Nation
Nonetheless, Austad sees Norwegian design 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 culturally a strong foundation and hopes that Norway will be able to continue to brand itself as a design nation in the future.
According to the study, design research and the growing emphasis on academic approaches in the educational programmes can help designers tackle with the conviction challenge.
It’s a little vague what design really is and what it’s capable of. With a clear definition of design processes and methods, that will be far clearer to the recipients. And this is an area where research has a crucial role to play.