Working from Lisbon – part two

Our annual northern hemisphere expedition to look at design practices took us to Portugal this year.

We chose it partly because we wanted to see how design had faired in a country ravaged by the global financial crisis.

As with each trip we researched our destination extensively before we left. We reached out to designers via LinkedIn and set up meetings to get a first hand experience of design in Portugal.

As part of my continuous research I had already gained a good understanding of design in Europe.

Although many of the European designers we have met find the same issues with clients as Australian designers I am more up-beat about the future of design in Europe than Australia. While Portugal has a small design industry it’s membership of the European Union has greatly increased its opportunities.

Design for Europe

In part the increased opportunity is due to programmes like Design for Europe. This was a three-year programme to support design-driven innovation across Europe. It was co-funded by the European Union as part of the EU’s Action Plan for Design-Driven Innovation.

A federal government Action Plan for Design-Driven Innovation in Australia is a distant dream!

The European programme was operated between January 2014 and December 2016 by a consortium of design organisations, universities and business support organisations from across the EU.

Design for Europe was based on the belief that Europe’s economy needs innovation to grow. As a group, they knew design plays a significant role in achieving this. While some European countries and regions are world-leaders in this field, others are beginning to embrace design as an economic driver. This is where we found Portugal was at.

As recently reported in the New York Times.

“At a time of mounting uncertainty in Europe, Portugal has defied critics who have insisted on austerity as the answer to the Continent’s economic and financial crisis. While countries from Greece to Ireland – and for a stretch, Portugal itself – toed the line, Lisbon resisted, helping to stoke a revival that drove economic growth last year to its highest level in a decade.

The renewal is visible just about everywhere. Hotels, restaurants and shops have opened in droves, fuelled by a tourism surge that has helped cut unemployment in half. In the Beato district of Lisbon, a mega-campus for startups rises from the rubble of a derelict military factory. Bosch, Google and Mercedes-Benz recently opened offices and digital research centres, employing thousands.

Foreign investment in aerospace, construction and other sectors is at a record high. And traditional Portuguese industries, including textiles and paper mills, are putting money into innovation, driving a boom in exports.”

Investing in design and innovation

By sharing knowledge, experience and skills Design for Europe set out to strengthen the European design community of practice, and ultimately equip businesses, public sector organisations and policymakers with the tools they need to innovate.

Through their website, resources and events Design for Europe established the place of design within innovation programmes. As part of this they appointed ambassadors to help promote Design for Europe and champion design-driven innovation. Portugal was an Ambassador.

They also appointed experts to complement the knowledge and experience of the programme partners. They contributed to the Design for Europe content presented at events and advocated for design at the highest level.

This programme shows the European commitment to design and this has flowed through to Portugal.


In coming articles we look at how design has been used to rebuild an ancient industry and how one design firm is developing a new business model in Lisbon.

Got a question? Want to share your point of view? Please feel free to email me.

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