Danish Design Centre 2018: putting Denmark's design DNA back on the world map
28. February 2018
Denmark has a strong position as a design nation, but we are far from reaping the full potential of the global enthusiasm for Danish design.
Boxing Future Health
Boxing Future Health explores scenarios for healthcare in the year of 2050.

In December 2017, about 50 business executives, healthcare experts, hospital directors, technologists and designers met at the Danish Design Centre to explore the future of healthcare by the year 2050. In a carefully designed future lab the participants encountered four different possible healthcare futures. They explored four physical installations – rooms designed as raw prototypes – illustrating how a patient might experience and relate to healthcare in different scenarios.

Next, the participants discussed what specific consequences the various scenarios might have for their respective organisations within a five-to-ten-year span: challenges with digitisation and technology, radical market changes, implications for regulation, future competency requirements and so forth. This gave the participants new insights in their own organisations, and they in turn provided input to how the project might be further developed and refined.

In 2018 the project will move to the next stage in collaboration with our project partners: Medicoindustrien, Rigshospitalet, Nyt Nordsjællands Hospital, University College Copenhagen, Aalborg University and the scenario agency Public Futures. Through the joint efforts in SIRIkommissionen we have gathered input from the Danish Society of Engineers (IDA), companies and experts in the field of artificial intelligence and digitisation.

Design for transformation: renewed growth in design
During the four decades that have passed since 1978, when the Danish Design Centre was founded (an anniversary that will be celebrated in style later this year), we have strived to promote the competitiveness of Danish companies, at home and abroad, through design. That remains a key aspect of our mission. However, the context in which companies develop their solutions – and thus the role of designers in organisations, whether as members of staff or as external consultants – has changed radically.

Today, rapid digitisation means that design increasingly involves transformation: transforming products and services to make them more meaningful, functional and attractive. And transforming business and management models to produce greater value for clients, users, partners, stakeholders – and society at large.

In this context, the Danish Design Centre aims to generate opportunities for more rapid and collaborative experiments aimed at uncovering new potential sources of value generation. That has a direct, positive impact on the bottom line, as evidenced in our surveys, which are validated by independent experts. According to the companies we have worked with, over a three-year period the Danish Design Centre’s programmes have helped generate added value of more than DKK 225 million in the private sector.

We see that design thinking, approaches and methods can play a crucial role in enabling diverse teams to discover new paths to value in complex and turbulent contexts. One example, among many, is the project Boxing Future Health, which I described above. The method of using design to generate concepts, resources and platforms that our project partners can build on and benefit from will be put to use again in 2018 in several other initiatives – from urban development and mobility to branding Danish design around the worldwide.

Meanwhile, we are also going to make a dedicated effort to scale and expand one of the mainstays in our work, which is concrete design processes for small and medium-sized Danish companies.

Let me now outline some of the new initiatives we expect great results from in 2018. I introduce each of the initiatives with an open question, because we realise that we do not have all the answers ourselves, but need to find them in cooperation with the many strong project partners we engage with in these innovation efforts.

Danish design DNA: how can we move beyond the village pond and reach across The Pond?
For design to be a relevant competitive factor, companies in a small, open economy, such as Denmark, are compelled to take an international approach to issues such as branding, exports, investments and so forth. However, as the members of our new International Advisory Board said, almost unanimously, when we met with them in 2017, Denmark and Danish design have far from realised the potential for global branding and cooperation that our abilities warrant.

In 2018 we are therefore going to engage in broad collaborations with designers, business and industry to build a global branding platform for Danish design – based in part on the impressive work on Danish Desing DNA spearheaded by the Danish Design Council and on the categories of the Danish Design Award (an event that we naturally host again in May in cooperation with Design denmark at the head office of the Confederation of Danish Industry), which effectively demonstrates the difference design can make. In 2017, together with, among others, Design denmark; the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design; Kolding Design School and Designmuseum Denmark, we tested how such a global concept might work in practice via a series of workshops at Parsons School for Design in New York. Now, we aim to venture farther into the United States, and we are also looking at countries such as China, Singapore and Japan as other potential targets of our effort in the coming year. 

The interntional Advisory Board
Agnete Schlichtkrull
The interntional Advisory Board

REMODEL: when time-honoured companies share secrets in order to improve their business
It is not news to the software industry that the open-source concept is a strong approach to innovative and scalable solutions. Open source means that a manufacturer gives everyone full access to the recipe for the product and allows others, including competitors, to take part in co-creating it. But could hardware manufacturers copy that approach? And what would that entail in practice?

Ten Danish companies – from large corporations, such as Grundfos, to smaller companies, such as SitPack – are currently taking part in REMODEL, an intensive sprint process where they trial open-source methods in their development work. The initiative involves a digital learning platform and an international team of mentors and aims to enable the companies to develop a new business strategy for one of their products in just eight weeks. 

The BeoCreate system by Bang & Olufsen
Bang & Olufsen
New life for old speakers: The BeoCreate system by Bang & Olufsen.

Design Journey: how can we reach 1000 companies with a design effort in three years?
In 2017 we concluded our large-scale PLUS programme, where almost 20 Danish companies and 20 designers worked together to tackle innovation challenges. The intensive PLUS programme contributed to considerable and measurable effects for many of the participants. In 2018 we ask how we can bring these experiences and methods to a much greater number of companies. To that end, we launched Design Journey, which includes presentations, workshops and brief processes that are carried out in collaboration with our new team of carefully selected design mentors. In 2017 we reached close to 300 companies with this effort, and we expect to reach at least the same number in 2018.

Our outreach to companies and our general focus on business and industry are also manifest in a collaboration with the network of groups under the Danish Management Society (VL), the VL Groups. Presentations, conferences and a specially developed board game have given the more than 4000 members of the VL Groups an opportunity to work with design methods and design thinking. The game, which was developed by a working group under VL in collaboration with the Workz agency, can be downloaded from

Design in figures: what is it worth, and who are the designers?
In 2018, together with the Confederation of Danish Industry, we are going to repeat our national mapping of Danish businesses’ use of design and the value of design, which we call ‘Exploring Design Impact’. We last conducted this survey in 2016. Again in 2018, we expect to get answers from more than 800 companies; we follow up by digging a little deeper in order to quantify the economic benefits of a pervasive use of design. In addition, we have invited the other Nordic design organisations to take part in mapping the ‘The Nordic Design Resource: gathering data to shed light on who the designers are, where they work and what types of tasks they are involved in. Together, we expect the two studies to provide a clearer picture of the link between supply and demand in the field of design and thus better insight into which areas require added attention.

Future mobility: how can we develop ambitious solutions in rural areas?
Together with Faaborg-Midtfyn Municipality, TDC, SIRIkommissionen and the World Economic Forum we will be conducting an open innovation challenge in 2018 with a focus on the design of new mobility solutions for rural areas. The municipality aims to involve both local and global companies, citizens, municipal staff, experts and others in a process driven by data and design methods to generate new ideas aimed at making the municipality more attractive and improve mobility. The project is kicked off with a conference and workshop that we co-host together with the World Economic Forum and others in June 2018.

InnoFounder: how can design make a difference for ambitious start-ups?
Over the coming three years, in close partnership with the Copenhagen Institute for Interaction Design (CIID) and with contributions from BLOXHUB, the Danish Design Centre is going to host Innovation Fund Denmark’s incubator for recent graduates – an initiative formerly known as Iværksætterpilot (Entrepreneur Pilot) and now renamed InnoFounder. With funding from Innovation Fund Denmark we will be offering an intensive twelve-month design-based growth process, which includes workshops, networking and training, a strong team of mentors and co-working facilities all over Denmark. We expect the biggest co-working area to be at BLOXHUB, which will be open to start-ups from summer 2018. Encouragingly, we are already seeing entrepreneurs embrace design methods and approaches in their development processes.

Design University: can we put Denmark on the world map of executive training?
The Danish Design Centre contributes to design leadership training in a variety of ways, including with a new summer school for innovation through design in collaboration with the Copenhagen Business School. However, the perspectives for the next generation’s design training go beyond that. Recently, the Danish Design Council’s leadership committee wrote an interesting op-ed, published in the Danish newspaper Børsen, suggesting that Denmark establish an actual design university. We have discussed this idea with some of the key actors in the fields of design and education, and have been met with general curiosity about exploring the potentials of such an idea.

In particular, from the perspective of the Danish Design Centre, we see a potential in a model where the existing universities pool their resources in order to brand Denmark as the destination where the top executives can learn and experience world-class design. We hypothesise that a joint effort by the artistically oriented programmes, the tech environments and the business colleges could make Denmark a very attractive destination for ‘executive’ design programmes.  In 2018 we hope to engage in a development effort together with actors who are interested in exploring the potentials.

New location, new organisation, new strategy
In early May 2018, BLOX, Rem Koolhas’s new building on Copenhagen’s harbour front, opens to the public. The Danish Design Centre will have a prominent placement in the building, where the Spacon & X agency is right now putting the finishing touches on our new offices. But even more importantly, ‘design DNA’ is a key driver of the building’s innovation association, BLOXHUB, an ambitious working and office community that aims to enhance Denmark’s impact and global reach in the fields of design, architecture and urban development. The Danish Design Centre is already engaged in collaborative projects with BLOXHUB, including development of a concept for a new model for export alliances.

The development of the Danish Design Centre over the past three years has been an intense journey. As we enter 2018, we have adjusted our organisation, are moving to a new location and are preparing an updated strategy for 2018–2020, which will reflect everything we have learned to date, and which we will use to strengthen the direction and ambition of our future efforts.

As is hopefully clear from the outline above, we are already engaged in many fruitful collaborative projects and partnerships – because we believe that value is best co-created. Do not hesitate to get in touch if you and your organisation see a potential in working with us on some of the issues I mention above – or if you have new questions or ideas that we should take a closer look at. 

The BLOX building in February 2018.
Almost ready: The BLOX building in February 2018.