Why design is Europe’s great differentiator

Europe is a global force for technology, academic research and manufacturing quality. From science to fashion, Europe has a tradition that, as a designer who has lived and worked in the US and across Asia, I have seen provides a significant advantage over our competing economies. That advantage is design.

Clive Grinyer

Design is of course a globally shared activity. Whether conscious or unconscious, design is inherent in every act of manufacture, interface, structure and service. Design reflects cultural identities: things look and behave differently in different places for different people and their social contexts.

But for Europe, design is a defining component of its cultural identity. From fashion to architecture, Europe is steeped in the human crafting of beauty and desirability that adds huge value to business and quality of life to society.

Europe’s brands command the highest value, set global taste and lead fashion whilst delivering huge economic and cultural value to the collective identity of Europe’s individual countries. Whether it is cars or handbags, the products, structures, transportation systems and digital experiences of Europe are built on the cultural imperative to combine beauty and logic which leads to iconic designs.

This heritage of design has been present from the start of industrialization in Europe. From the 19th century Great Exhibition in Britain to the 20th century products and buildings of the German manufacturing giants, AEG and Braun, beauty, practicality and ease of use have combined with efficiency of material and manufacturing processes. Innovation in the processes of industrialisation may have been led by companies in the USA and more recently Asia, but, from the earliest examples of European manufacturers, ensuring objects looked and worked beautifully has always been treated as inherent components to commercial success.

Design is only one factor in creating success as the failure of manufacturing giants Olivetti and Philips, both with star-studded design resources, shows. But design is important to all companies who reach across international markets. As a designer I have helped small companies reach international markets and large companies from the other side of the world connect with customers in Europe The presence and influence of European designers in the US for companies such as Apple and across Asia for Samsung and others, has played a major role in helping deliver life-changing technology and achieving huge commercial success.

In a world where increasingly digital interactions drive new services and experiences, creating beautiful and human centric technology is vital for success. Design is at the core of driving those next generation of digital experiences. Luckily, the design tradition of Europe is not something frozen in aspic. As we move from artifact to virtual, design is a live throbbing force emanating from Europe’s design schools inspiring an international cohort of future creators across the globe. As I constantly see in the science parks and technology incubators of Europe, it is in the new generations of entrepreneurial technology and design collaborators who are creating the businesses of tomorrow.

Across Europe the Design for Europe project led by the UK Design Council is focused on helping Europe capitalise on its design heritage and excellence to drive economic growth. We need to articulate the benefit and measure the impact of design on businesses and the public sector to help industries and organisations exploit Europe’s design advantage.

Design for Europe aims to optimise our design advantage. In times of crisis, it’s more important than ever to ensure that Europe continues to utilise the humanity and sheer ingenuity of Europe’s design heritage. That’s an important message for politicians and CEOs and will benefit the people who live in and the customers who buy from Europe.

Europe has the tradition, the mindset and the talent to create world beating products and services that don’t just work, but work brilliantly to enhance the value of the raw materials and intellectual fire power that lies within.

Clive Grinyer is customer experience director in Barclays' design office and is part of the expert group of the European Commission funded project Design for Europe

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