“Designomics” Will Save us All

October 15, 2009

My cross country, Cities x Design, expedition is finished.  I’m still working on getting much of the data together, editing the hundreds of hours of video and preparing the book and DVD package but the driving part is over.  You can follow the progress here. As I begin to put the book together I will share some of the insights I gathered from the trip on The Ideafeed, my beloved creative industries blog.  It’s always a bit sad to see your blog looking lonely.  The trip was after-all an effort to gauge the state of the American creative economy so it does have a place on this blog.

Over three months I visited 30 cities seeking to understand the role that design plays in the development of American cities.  Why design? Because design encompasses the widest cross section of the creative industries beyond the classical arts.  Although the arts sector is important to our personal well being it can not solely drive an industrial economy no matter how much employment is created by the non profit sector. Here’s a little more on why I focused on the 26 disciplines of design during the trip.  The focus on cities was simply because that is where the impact of design and the creative industries can be easily viewed, experienced and measured. It’s at the city level, on the city platform, that the outputs of designers is most evident.  It’s also at the city level where the greatest potential for change lies.

Are American cities still developing, you wonder? Yes, indeed they are. The United States has fallen behind on many international development indicators. I will not bore you with the numerous studies that demonstrate the lag I’ll just ask you to take a ride through your city, our cities.  Explore the neighborhoods and the roadways.  Observe the storefronts, the empty parking lots and count the number of “for lease” signs.  Talk to a stranger and ask how their day is going and sincerely seek to understand why so many people seem down about the day’s news.  It’s not complicated to understand that something is not working.  If you can feel that intuitively then you might want to keep reading.  If you can’t feel it then leave a comment and maybe we can talk it out.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think “developing” is a bad thing,  I actually think it’s quite progressive.  It’s an opportunity to improve, it’s an opportunity to lead in some areas and to learn from others in some domains.  Think about it, would you rather be past tense “developed”, with everything finished, accounted for and settled, or would you rather be “developing”, with a future ahead of you, with things left to build and problems to solve. I like developing, I like a good challenge and that’s where we are at.

To be clear, on my first post back, I just wanted to set the agenda for the next few months of research. During my trip I visited 30 cities.  Every city I visited had areas in which they could improve, every city was preparing for a new round of development and every city could benefit from broader participation of the creative industries, particularly design. Now since it’s Ok to admit that we are developing, that we still have things to learn, I just wanted to share the new strategy that Seoul is adopting to address its economic downturn.

The new Creative Director of the city of Seoul practices “Designomics” or  he seeks to expand the role of design to support his city in coping with the depression.  The Mayor has announced ”a comprehensive budget plan of about $100 million for the next three years to improve the design capabilities of small to midsize enterprises. The budget will be spent on building various infrastructures to provide design services, from custom-made design information to the re-education of mid-career designers working in companies or design consulting firms.”  They have also “initiated various design projects to help the poor, the disabled, and the elderly in order to narrow down the social gap.

I was happy when I found that article.  It’s a good way to sum up what my great American search was about.  I sought to understand how design supports the social, economic and cultural growth of American cities.  My findings are coming soon but until then I think it’s safe to say I’m a believer in “Designomics.”  Are you?

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Cities and the Creative Industries

A Creative Industry Primer

The creative economy movement started in the UK in 1994. Follow the links to understand how national cultural policy became creative industry policy and how it's now changing the world.