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MacroDesign with Denmark
By Uday Dandavate
January 31st, 2011
Denmark is going to establish an Innovationcenter in Asia to facilitate closer cooperation between Asia and Denmark forstrategic innovation and design. Recently I had the opportunity to meet witha senior consultant from the Danish Chamber of Commerce, who is also a lobbyist for theInnovationcenter. Webrainstormedabout what might be a shared platform for strategic collaboration between Asia and Denmark. This conversation, combined with myrecent involvement with various projects inDenmark, has helped me gain a freshperspective on Denmark s unique potential as a partner country in the global arena. Danish Design is known worldwide for simple, functional furniture. The effects of the industrial revolution reached Denmark relatively late. Denmark was able to develop its own design language that is, even today, inspired by high-quality craftsmanship. Arne Jacobsen, a well-known furniture designer,created the iconic Ant Chair in 1951. Another iconic representation of Danish design is the SydneyOpera House, designed by Danish architectJørnUtzon. LEGO is another example of Denmark s lasting imprint on the world. Often I cite examples of LEGO to illustrate the point that a design process is complete only when it takes on its own form in the imagination of the enduser. Good design, I believe, is one that provides users the flexibility to perceive it, use it, change it, and experience it on their own terms, rather than one that imposes how the designer wants the
users to experience it. Generic LEGO blocks offerthat flexibility. LEGO blocks morph into a variety of forms and scenarios within the imagination of millions of children and adults around the world. Bang &Olufsen is another example of Danish simplicity raised to a level of high design. Danish design reflects Danish values, social relationships, and the psychology of an average Dane. One cannot understand the value of innovation and design in Denmark without understanding Danish people and their culture. The 2010 Legatum Prosperity Index, which produces rankings of countries based upon factors that will help drive economic growth and produce happy citizens over the long term, has ranked Denmark second globally. Relatively, the United States, a global super power, ranks 10th on the Prosperity Index. Ireland and Iceland come in at 11th and 12th respectively, even before the United Kingdom s position at number 13. Understanding how Danes manage their happiness and sense of wellbeingcan help struggling countries bring prosperity to their citizens usingeconomic tools and measurements. Danes have a deep and active involvement in political decisions, and a very responsible social and civil attitude. At 90 percent, Denmark s voting rate is highest in the world. They subscribe to the ideal of the welfare state, which follows the principle that each member of society has equal rights and access to social support and social benefits. According to Limbistraine.com: Danish cultural features and values are connected in a network built on relations of interdependence. The
consequence of living in a society where material and psychological benefits are accessible and tangible is the feeling of safety and comfort. The Danish way of thinking is: itis more sensible to have a secure life than to take big risks." Together, with the sense of sharing and the sense of community, the feeling of security supports the ideal of the welfare state. An explanation for this respect for equality would be the sense of moral obligation: "they (Danes) share with others, if not gladly, then from a sense of moral obligation." The Danes detest authority. There is no bowing and scraping to anyone in Denmark. The keywords for such a system are closeness, informality, friendship, and trust. A high priority given to the development of social behavior, which is also reflected in the three fundamental constituents of Danish school the non-authoritarian method, co-determination, and equality has at best resulted in the allocation of equal status to the general formative aspects of education in relation to the attainment of qualifications."(Limbistraine.com) Hygge, a Danish term that means warmth of successful informality, is considered a foundation of the Danish lifestyle, play, and freedom essential parts of daily routines. This progressive mindset can be seen from the fact that same-sex marriage was legalized in Denmark in
1989.My belief that we need to embrace new mindsets and new toolsbeyond economic measures of progress to bring quality of life and a sense of well being to our people stems from observing small and content communities, such as the Danes. I often give examples of Scandinaviancountries social and economic policiesduring argumentswith conservative leanings among my friends. They often remind methat Scandinavian success managing economic progress while ensuring social justice is not scalable to a large country like the United States. That is when I argue that America s focus on supersizing everything, from French fries to its super-power status,gets in the way of using its resources responsibly and in bringing happiness to its people. America is the richest country in the world, is a leader in technological innovation, and has the mightiest military force, yet it is behind Norway, Denmark, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, and the Netherlands in its global prosperity ranking. America s obsession with scale, speed, and efficiency gets in the way of achieving what relatively smaller communities, such as the Danes, have been able to afford their citizens. One of my favorite Norwegiananthropologists, Thomas HyllandEriksen, wrote in his book, Tyranny of the Moment, Fast and Slow in the Information Age : We are unwittingly being slaved by the very technology that promised liberation. It is impossible to applaud the current
drift towards a society where everything stands still at enormous speed. (Eriksen,2001) There is a need to return to a pace of life that affords people sanity and balance. The public policies need to be reconsidered to ensure cultivation of resourceful communities.An example of an alternative approach could be found in India s ongoing experiment with Panchayati Raj (a federation of village communities), which will ultimately help develop smaller, indigenous, and self-reliant communities. The Danish sense of moral obligation for interdependent living, and its success in cultivating and encouraging innate creative talent amongst its communities, can become an inspiration for Asian countries such as China and India. The goal of such collaboration should not be just productive outputs, but buildingof social capital. The progress of this collaboration should be measured in terms of the trust, reciprocity, and social networks it helps cultivate within these communities through the harnessing of indigenous creativity. Ultimately, such collaboration will help establish a convivial society which affords its citizens a life of joyful sobriety and liberating austerity. (Illich, 73) The opportunity for collaboration between Denmark and Asia can be best summarized in the words of Prof. M.P. Ranjan, an internationally recognized design thinker, design teacher, and blogger from India.Prof. Ranjan recommended acommunity-centered approach in his presentation, Inclusive Design for Development in India at the recent World Economic forum in Devos:
We may need to make some fundamental changes in our design education approaches and widen the base for action a shift from a focus on business and industry to the design for public good that is operational at the local community level. (Ranjan, 2011) Denmark s opportunity to have long-lasting partnerships in Asia will depend on its ability to establish community-centric learning networks that benefit from alignment of values and cultures. I believe there is a natural resonance between the values Danes cherish and the lifestyles and mindsets of Asian people. While Asian countries can share their rich cultural resources with Denmark, Danes can share their experience of translating the cultural mindset into contemporary design.