No one should be interested in the design of bridges – they should be concerned with how to get to the other side
Opinion article by David Bota – Product Designer and Professor
We are all aware of the importance of positioning and differentiation of our offer to the success of our companies to create wealth, employment and well-being. We all know the importance of the added value of our offer, in increasingly global mature and saturated, sophisticated and demanding markets, in societies of information, ie, economies post-subsistence increasingly dependent on information and on its worth and consumption.
We know that design can be a fundamental value in this process, but we possibly keep a kind of atheism, justified somehow, in relation to the miracles of design, probably as the result of some kind of personal experience and some incipient and little strategic investment, that same atheism we nurture for the cooked theories, universities, somehow far from real-world ups-and-downs.
We’ve all certainly discussed the value of design. In a social occasion with colleagues, partners or competitors, after a conference, inspired by a fair, a presentation, or by reading an article in a magazine that, despite everything, we follow signing. Of course, we have nothing against creativity but, on the contrary, we nurture a remarkable respect and marvel for these dedicated minds. However we seem to have different objectives and ways of thinking it seems that real life, our worries and objectives are different.
As a designer and professor, I know that creativity is essential. But it is only a means to achieve an objective, which is innovation, the creation of new products or services resulting in the creation of wealth, employment, welfare, a way like a bridge to reach the other side. This is the design mission. There aren’t any backgrounds in the history of economies sustainable development cemented only in tourism, but the industry has been and continues to be an indispensable progress engine for the developed economies. In global markets, the task that looks forward to our national industry proves to be as necessary as ambitious and requires at least an upgrading of mentalities.
We’ve all discussed in a social situation with colleagues, partners or competitors, that our country hasn’t enough geographical or demographic expression to sustain a low modern industrial sector in all its parameters. But have we ever imagine the Swiss economy, with less than the Portuguese population but among the 25 largest economies in the world and whose industrial sector employs over 40% of the population (compared with 24% in Portugal), which support a secondary sector of reference, for example in watchmaking or in the textile sector, with a mostly domestic consumption? Certainly not.
On the other hand, we all have also conveyed – within the same group: our colleagues, partners or competitors – that our country has an inadequate industrial structure based largely in Family Business. But have we ever imagine how the Italian economy, with about 70% of family businesses, like Portugal, accounting for 50% of employment in companies with more than 50 employees and more than 90% in smaller companies – or even our Spanish neighbours, whose family businesses represent more than 70% of the total, and about 60% of both turnover and exports, can sustain their secondary sectors with a predominantly domestic consumption?
Probably not. However this seems to be the best solution we have found to our national economy.
According to the information available in different media in 2014, over 40% of Portuguese sales to other countries were carried out by about 1% of our national companies, while more than 60% of Portuguese companies accounted for less than 10% of value sold abroad. With 0 to 9 workers, these 60% of Portuguese companies often showed structural problems of scale, competitiveness, positioning and supply differentiation, and consequently financing or investment – with serious repercussions on their ability to research, development and innovation ( R + D + i).
If we want to transform our industry in an exporter and competitive industry in such increasingly global and demanding markets, it is clear the strategic importance of the development and monetization of R + D + i in Portuguese companies to create higher added value, which is one of the proven shortcomings of our economy, particularly in contexts as uncertain as are currently the European and global ones. The University is ready to contribute with the knowledge and research produced by itself, ready to share the responsibility and contribute to this creation of added value, and can be a key partner for this process of reindustrialization, absolutely essential for Europe’s southern countries. In the same way the design can contribute to strategically define the nature and characteristics of our offer in order to its differentiation and correct positioning, to the definition and development of products, services and experiences, communication, commercial or exhibition spaces, etc., properly adjusted to this differentiation and position.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to build bridges so that this process finds its required expression and impact, it is necessary to build a dialogue between industry, design and universities in order to create cross-cutting synergies absolutely crucial to our country industry so it finds its deserved expression out there. The industry has always been the self-motivated dimension of culture, based on cleverness, on invention – not speculation – and it always has brought together intellectuals, designers, architects, around its role in society.
It is imperative this remains this way.