Design is something normally associated with aesthetics and the creation of products and services. But design-enabled innovation can also bring about societal change, driving citizen engagement through the co-creation of public initiatives, and ultimately increasing both business performance and social inclusion. With this in mind, the EU-funded DESIGNSCAPES (Building Capacity for Design enabled Innovation in Urban Environments) project sought to put design at the forefront of urban innovation, by supporting design-enabled projects aiming to transform the way people live and work in Europe’s cities. “DESIGNSCAPES aimed, and successfully managed, to tackle an evident gap in the current state of affairs,” says Francesco Molinari, DESIGNSCAPES project manager. “Namely that too few private or public organisations in Europe take advantage of or make strategic use of design within their innovation-generation processes,” he notes. DESIGNSCAPES launched a cascade funding call, selecting – through an open, transparent and inclusive procedure – a suite of projects that would receive financial support from the European Commission. Each of these projects was tasked with fostering innovation in urban contexts through design. Successful applicants had to demonstrate the potential of their project to address some of the major problems currently faced by Europe’s cities, such as climate change, demographic imbalance, social tensions and political disengagement. The funding call was open to a wide range of applicants, including individuals, universities, government bodies and enterprises. The funding call drew hundreds of applicants, and 99 projects were selected to receive grants. Co-creation – the involvement of citizens within the innovation process – was core to every project selected by the DESIGNSCAPES fund.
Designing the future of cities
DESIGNSCAPES fostered participatory, place-based innovations to creatively tackle global challenges at urban level. In doing this, it anticipated the 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities Mission approach and the spirit of the New European Bauhaus movement. Molinari highlights some of the successful design-enabled projects, and the innovative services they provide to Europe’s citizens. They include: a georeferenced app to measure noise pollution in cities; a system to highlight pedestrian crossings when street lighting is inadequate; a children’s toy which calls an elderly person willing to read them a story; a welcome and support service for out-of-town relatives of hospital patients; and a standard approach for cities to adopt nature-based solutions to urban problems. “I am only doing injustice to those that don’t come to my mind now, and there were many for which there was simply not enough funding,” Molinari adds. One unexpected effect was the additional support many of the winners received due to their initial success. “A good 20 % of our innovators attracted further financing for their ideas and prototypes, thanks to the positive reputation acquired by winning the call,” says Molinari. The team hopes that Europe’s urban societies can build on the progress made under the DESIGNSCAPES project, and continue to transform through design-enabled innovation. “Design, coupled with innovation in cities, can produce results that are fruitful for their proposers and transformative for the environment they move within, having both individual interest and common good as legitimate targets,” Molinari concludes.
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