Design schools, the new incubators

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Western economies are looking for a new life, a new impulse. If States are now looking at ways of containing the debt crisis, of saving banks from bankruptcy, it is in the field of business and competitiveness that everything will unravel. Globalization and the competition of emerging economies have led to a complete economical reorganisation and as Adam Smith would have said, has led to a new era of the “division of labour.”

“Made in China, Made in India” is now a standard, to the delight of consumers who are looking for the best products, at the best price. For the same quality, who would consider paying more, simply because the product is manufactured next to home? Only the demagoguery of some politicians could maybe try and convince us otherwise. Is there any point in denying what is obvious ?

Driven by economic interests, Western industrial companies are relocating to China, India and other countries to remain competitive. It seems that the future of the assembly work no longer dwells in Occident. If protectionism measures seem difficult to implant to avoid relocation, we can yet expect that the likely increase of energy and transportation costs, and the improvement of living standards and social protection for workers – and therefore their cost – will gradually stop this movement. But when? It’s today that we need to save our jobs.

The industrial and marketing paradigms on which Western economies are built are going to mutate, and it would be vain to try and cling to references in management which date from the 19th century Industrial Revolution, or from the fifties. For many Western companies, it is no longer about doing what they know how to do and improving it, but about being able to adapt constantly their knowledge to new uses.

The ability to innovate, to mutate, to change jobs, must be at the heart of corporate strategy. The capacity for “innovative flexibility” must develop into a decisive strategic element, which guarantees the durability of the structure. We must move from the era of industrial management to that of innovative entrepreneurship. Creation and innovation could well save the Western industrial economies, and help them recover their added value. It is through research, innovation, the meaning and values conveyed by the brand image, that we will recover margins, and competitiveness.

Similarly, the digital age, the era of intangible relationships is quietly eclipsing the era of advertising. Advertising has became suspicious since it prides itself on making us buy products we don’t need. Marketing is changing and does not use the same tools any more. The economy of contribution is driving that of consumption towards retirement.

Research, creation and innovation are at the heart of the design profession. If the engineer was the man of industry, the marketer the man of advertising, the designer could be that of industrial change and marketing at once : the man of the flexible and innovative firm. (S)he is the one who reconciles creation and innovation, imagination and socio-economic reality, who creates meaning. The restoration of Western companies’ margins depends on this. The designer’s ability to project the future, to foresee and set off changes will also be one of the fundamentals of management of change.

Throughout the world, design schools are developing, supported by politicians well aware of the issues at stake. This development is accompanied by the creation of “design centers”, “design labs”, or “design factories”. Beyond their duty of education, design schools are meant to become innovation centers enabling to gather the expertise of researchers from all fields and businesses. These multidisciplinary centers of innovation are the new territories of incubation, from which will emerge the industries of the future.

Design schools and universities will be the bearers of meaning for the territories on which they are based. They will guarantee a new industrial reality to answer a real challenge: restoring the competitiveness of Western businesses. The concept of “Designed by” is replacing that of “Made in”. For many Western companies, brand, values : “where we come from”, meaning, as well as the ability to innovate, will take over quality standards, productivity, performance. The example of Apple is clear: “Designed by Apple,” “Assembled in China” for a company that changes its business every 5 years. “Before becoming someone, you come from somewhere” is what Apple demonstrates by making their brand a prominent vector of added value.

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