There is little dispute around the globe about the importance of design, but much dispute about who does it well. The general pattern is that it is always done better in some country other than where one lives. New Zealand is in the grips of design fever following a conference last month on improving competitiveness through design. A favorite model for New Zealanders is Finland, which shares having a small population that somewhat off the beaten track. A leading Finnish design guru came to New Zealand and spoke about Finland's national design strategy. But to read that strategy, one senses a great deal of angst in Finland over how well they are doing (my opinion: they are doing fantastic). So Finland invites foreign speakers to tell them how they should do it. The Brits, no slouches at design, as the rest of Europe flocks to cool Britannia, eye the United States. The Department of Trade and Industry sends teams to unlock the mysteries of that great PR machine known as Ideo. At least the DTI study team reported back that fears of a design gap are exaggerated. And in the United States, Richard Florida, creator of the "creative class" concept, writes in the Harvard Business Review
that the US is falling behind other countries in creativity, countries like, well, New Zealand. So far the US Government has failed to get alarmed, however.
My candidate for a model of design-done-right is the Netherlands. Yes the Netherlands has the notorious quirky design of Droog and Rem Koolhaas. And on a trip to Rotterdam last year I discovered that even McDonald's could be an amazing design object. But I am most impressed by the quality of their design research, which is ahead of everyone (the Finns do come in close second.) And this all happens without any grand initiatives, or breast beating about being behind other countries. Indeed, the Dutch scraped the government-funded Netherlands Design Institute several years ago, and seem no worse for that.