LEADING CREATIVELY: DEVELOPING THE VISUAL CULTURE INDUSTRY THROUGH DESIGN

18 January 2007
Jacques Lange, Icograda President
Jacques Lange, Icograda President

Icograda President Jacques Lange was invited to address the first International Forum on the Development of the Cultural and Creative Industry in Beijing, China on 11 December 2006. The feature below is a transcript of his presentation.

Honoured guests, speakers and delegates, all protocol observed.

I have been invited to talk about the 'Development of the visual culture industry'. Theoretically speaking, the term 'visual culture' is ubiquitous and entails a plethora of human-created artefacts, installations, happenings, projections and transmissions that can primarily be experienced visually (but also engages other senses) and spans a diversity of often overlapping sub-disciplines of cultural practice. If we additionally introduce the term 'industry' to the topic, it leads to even more complications because it involves issues related to economics, intellectual property, professional titles, and many others. Obviously, this topic is too broad to address effectively in the time allocated and surely, there are very few people who are equipped to cover the whole spectrum with authority and the ability to do so in detail. Therefore, I will mainly focus on my field of practice communication design a vast and complex industry in itself.

Visual culture has been omnipresent in human civilisation since time immemorial. More than 20 000 years ago, the San and Khoikhoi people of southern Africa and the Australian Aboriginal peoples even further back in time documented their most important domestic activities and their spiritual and social experiences on cave walls and rock faces as part of their daily cultural rituals. Surely, they also sang, made music, danced and told stories, but unfortunately these were mostly lost in time. It was embedded in the DNA of the world's ancient peoples to express themselves creatively. Twenty thousand years on, visual communication is still being practiced as part of daily cultural activity. Yet, we have progressed to execute our documentaries today on billboards, in printed publications, in spatial installations and in virtual forms such as electronic and broadcast media.

The place of visual culture and specifically, communication design has become more relevant than ever before. It sits centre with music, fashion, cinematography, industrial design and software development as the most lucrative of all cultural industries. These industries reach billions of people every day and profoundly impact on their lives and daily routines.

Visual culture and design can contribute to driving economies, stimulate technological and cultural development and social transformation.

Design is increasingly emerging as a strategic imperative for development and it is currently enjoying an unprecedented focus from diverse audiences. I am cautious about claiming that design can independently facilitate radical social, economical and cultural transformation. However, indicators have proved that it has potential to be a key strategic factor in transformation and development. Moreover, it is the responsibility of designers to critically define the role that design plays in today s world.

For the very first time, at the World Economic Forum 2006, which took place in Davos, Switzerland, design was included as one of the themes debated by the world's foremost corporate leaders. Many of the participants represented corporate economies whose balance sheets surpass those of many developing national economies.

Commenting on the results of the World Economic Forum 2006, acclaimed economics and design journalist, Bruce Nussbaum, stated that: " two things are clear ... First, top managers of global corporations are convinced that innovation and creativity are critical to the future success of their companies. Second, to make that happen, a massive hunt for creative talent around the world is under way."

These comments are also applicable to national economic management. Sustainable growth requires a consistent focus on competitiveness that is necessary to unlock the potential of an economy innovation and creative talent are the drivers for achieving future success in the new knowledge economy or rather it's successor, the creative economy. The design sector's inherent ability to use creativity to drive innovation and ultimately competitiveness is well documented. For instance, in 2004, designers contributed 2.6 billion Euros to the gross national product in the Netherlands. In the same year, the 185 500 people who worked in design in the UK, contributed a staggering GBP 11.6 billion to their country's economy. In addition, according to recent statistics, the economic impact of design in the city of Montreal is CAD $1.18 billion and the industry is responsible for 31 173 jobs.

During the past decade, countries like Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the Nordic countries and the UK have recognised design as a strategic imperative and have developed national or regional design policies that aim to drive economic growth. One of the most acclaimed benchmarks is South Korea which implemented its strategy in 1993. In 2002, the value of the South Korean design industry was estimated at around 7 trillion Won (1.2% of GDP), and it is expected to grow to 36 trillion Won, equivalent to 3% of GDP by 2010. South Korea is not only reaping benefits on their economic bottom line, but also increasing its employment numbers and enhancing the country's image, reputation and citizen's morale among others.

The activities of the aforementioned regions also reaffirms that design holds potential to lead reinvention and regional regeneration. No other example is more profound than the city of Barcelona. Until the mid-1980's, Barcelona was a slumbering city with little global impact. Barcelona won the bid to host the 1992 Olympic Games and in the process reinvented itself among others through the strategic use of design. The subsequent governmental investments in the sector resulted in the city becoming a global design capital today, attracting international investment from the tourism and industrial sectors. Other examples include Nagoya, Singapore, Montreal, Sydney and Hong Kong which are all now regarded as key players in global design commerce. Also, cities like Sao Paulo, Pune and Pretoria (now Tshwane) are becoming prominent for their investment in design for development. All of these accomplishments were achieved by committed collaboration between the creative and political stakeholders.

So, it is no longer enough for designers, visual and performing artist, musicians, and peer cultural agents to simply be talking among themselves. The creative and cultural industries must engage in conversations with business, the public, governments and international organisations. We need to open the debate and create forums to actively engage with civil and public society as a means for the creative community to become more relevant and strategic in the political and civil domains.

As cultural agents, we are called on to provide solutions to challenges of every kind in every sector of society to enhance the quality of life and the diversity of bottom-lines for all. The lines between local, national and global cultural and trade activities are becoming increasingly arbitrary. This opens up new possibilities for communicating and collaborating creatively across cultures and over great distances that were previously unavailable and unabridged. It also carries with it many new responsibilities to consider regarding the power of the cultural industries to unite or divide.

We have entered a new and dualistic epoch. Human civilisation is becoming more dynamic and complex by the second, yet our mother planet Earth and her resources are increasingly becoming more vulnerable and depleted. Sustainability has become a central responsibility especially of designers because of their key role in specifying production processes and materials which obviously has an impact on the natural ecology. However, sustainability does not only entail the environment but also includes issues related to social (cultural) and economic responsibilities. Development of the cultural and creative industries should not come at a cost of environmental degradation, social and cultural homogenisation and economic exploitation of the creators, the production stakeholders, the investors and the consumers of the work of the cultural and creative industries. The core aim should be the creation of common wealth that equals quality of life for all and everything involved the people and environment.

It is also our responsibility as cultural agents to be open and receptive to the changing world that shape our understanding of the diverse creative professions and the influence and impact of the information, technologies and bottom lines that we create. The pace set by the creative and cultural industries and its multi-platform environments will challenge us to evaluate our core assumptions about the effective use of creativity today and in the future.

To demonstrate the value of design, we need to do valuable things that are also valuable to other people. This implies creating new depth, relevance and resonance around the cultural industries and its social, economic and environmental responsibilities.

That is exactly the reason why the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) and International Council of Graphic Design Associations (Icograda) formed the International Design Alliance (IDA). The IDA is based on the desire of both partners to 'do together what we cannot do alone', concentrating on opportunities arising from multidisciplinary collaboration. The IDA's vision is "The design community working together for a world that is balanced, inclusive and sustainable" and its mission is "To bring the benefits of design to world bodies, governments, business and society". Its founding goals include:
- To serve as the collective voice of design;
- To develop and share knowledge of design around the world;
- To stimulate innovation through multidisciplinary design collaboration;
- To promote the mutual interest of all design professions, and
- To encourage the use and value of design by building relationships with world bodies.

Since its official establishment in October 2005, the IDA has developed four projects that aim to serve its mandate. These are:

- The IDA Global Summit a high-level forum that aims to facilitate understanding of design and its role in society, debate and multidisciplinary collaboration between international design, INGO and intergovernmental organisations. The inaugural Summit will take place in Montreal, Canada in May 2007.

- The IDA World Design Capital aims to recognise cities that 'reinvent' themselves through the strategic use of design and innovation by awarding the WDC designation on an annual basis. It entails a yearlong programme of intensive investment in design activities and promotion by the selected city government as a means to boost the local economy and reposition the city as being 'design driven'. The first WDC designation has been awarded to Torino, Italy, which will serve as the pilot site for future designations.

- The IDA World Design Report aims to create a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary database on the design economy in the world, classified by country and based on common indicators and a comparative research methodology. As an industry, we guess a lot, yet know so little about our local and global impact. This project aims to level the playing field and allow us to compare common indicators that would inform national and international policy making; and

- INDIGO INDIGO stands for 'international indigenous design network' and its aims include celebrating, preserving and developing indigenous design. It additionally fosters pride of ancient cultural roots among designers, especially those with close aboriginal roots, as a means for preserving valuable heritage as well as fostering continuous appreciation and development of ancient cultural expressions in a dynamic and respectable manner in the 21st century.

Subsequently, the IDA executive has defined its key priorities to include fostering greater collaboration between the international multidisciplinary design profession's and the greater civil society infrastructure. The intention is to ensure that design and designers are part of global debates and issues that affect society today. The design industry realises that it has a significant impact on global politics, trade and environmental issues and therefore needs to position itself at the centre of the policy boardroom.

These are some of the bold steps that the communication and industrial design profession management is taking to secure our place as global citizens.


The next 'cultural revolution'
Today, the 'new creative citizens' designers, software developers and cinematographers among others have joined traditional cultural practitioners the fine and performing artists. These creative citizens have taken their place alongside engineers, lawyers, accountants, doctors and teachers as esteemed members of our global community. They represent dynamic, sharing and rapidly developing professions that are spearheading the global economy because they are knowledge-based rather than being commodity-based.

To sustain global creativity we need to stimulate the sense of pride for uniqueness and originality, especially among the youth. We need to stimulate original thinking, creativity and expression of these attributes, because future success in a globalised world, be it economically or socially is dependant on diversity. Neil Kinnock, VP European Commission, stated at the World Creative Forum 2004 that "Design is never passive; it s about engaging with your surroundings and questioning orthodoxies."

We should act responsibly when we commercialise culture and creativity. It should always stimulate appreciation but more importantly, it should aim to inspiring more creativity like a master painter or composer one painting or composition leads to a next and a next and a next, continuously expanding the parameters of creative pursuit.

Culture is precious and it should be managed sensitively and sensibly.

The issues and responses that my profession is addressing are definitely not unique within the greater creative and cultural industry. I am sure that the speakers at this event that will follow me will address many, if not all of these issues. They will engage in an important dialogue about defining the creative and cultural industries for today and tomorrow, sharing both the value of cultural and creative industries and the values of its diverse practitioners and the potential to shape what our future looks like.

I thank you.