The Year of Portuguese Design

This year, between June 2014 and May 2015, Portugal is celebrating The Year of Portuguese Design. As a Government’s initiative to value Portuguese design and to promote it internationally, there are promised affiliations with both the professional and the academic side of the discipline, also claiming to be receptive to co-productions and independent initiatives, which sounds about right particularly considering the tightness of the budget attributed.

The Commissioner states that the idea is to “flee from the exhibition format and to enter the project production” adding the importance of a long lasting strategy for Portuguese design. Following the same principles as the extinct Portuguese Design Centre (Centro Português de Design), conveying design as an important tool of sustainable competitive advantage for the companies, the official program seems, however, to enhance areas not quite design related: industry (no problem here), sea (?) and tourism (?). It’s corporate identity, due to be released in July 1st (2014), has it’s own domain — designportugues.org — but no website to be found except for a GoDaddy welcome message was mistakenly advertised (here is the correct url: designportugues.pt) and was only online on November 30th. But let’s take a closer look at the program:

> Industry
Again following the footsteps of Centro Português de Design, this initiative aims to develop a structured program that focuses on the small and medium businesses (SMBs) of product design — particularly furniture — in order to enhance the balance between industry and design. Projects such as this already exist and some have been very successful, for which Art on Chairs is an example. Not that more projects of this nature aren’t needed, but why not focusing on an area that has been neglected, for a change? And instead of always trying to inject design (or designers) into the companies, why not nurturing students and companies to envision a future together?

> Sea
Apparently, “this generation needs to rehabilitate it’s relationship with the sea”. And apparently, this will happen by the intervention of communication and urban designers at the Ericeira World Surfing Reserve. If this will indeed stand for something regarding design — and I sincerely hope it will — where are the design managers or the service designers, for example? And, again, why not take the example of the already developed Requalification Project of the Coastline (Plano de Requalificação da Orla Costeira)?

> Tourism
As for tourism, a book is on the way! *_* And even though I agree with the idea of a milestone of what has been done by Portuguese designers so far, must it be in a book? How exactly will a book contribute to the international promotion of Portuguese design? And do we really need to focus on tourism?

> National Awards
Though it is wonderful that the national design awards Daciano da Costa and Sebastião Rodrigues were restored in an annual basis, it would be so much interesting if the awards focused, for instance, on successful cooperations between design and businesses but, again, I fail to understand where can national awards be useful in contributing for the international promotion of Portuguese design.

> Exhibition Format
Considering that we are in the middle of September, I now believe that most of the initial efforts were set for the grand opening entitled A Liberdade da Imagem (involving seven different venues in the city of Porto) which not only fails to flee from the exhibition format but it also had no international resonance. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, I also failed to visit the exhibition which I know must be impeccable, but was there any attention paid to the non-portuguese speakers if, indeed, the aim is to bring Portuguese design to an international light?

I believe this stubbornness on exhibitions and specific projects that aim towards an award are not the answer for promoting Portuguese design or any design, for that matter. But in Portugal, it can even work against us! This is a country where some still consider design as art. Or worse, an adjective.

Shouldn’t we be focusing on actually promoting Portuguese design outside Portugal? Or maybe the other way around, inviting designers from other countries to work together with Portuguese designers in workshops or discussing the future in national design conferences, open to all? Why not take advantage of the hub that is being created in Lisbon around the creative industries? Why not take advantage of the Portuguese design community spread all over the world (by the way, what happened to Dizer Design, which is/was a project of public interest, nonprofit, created with the purpose of studying the relationship of Portuguese designers with the culture and society in Portugal and worldwide)?

Can we please stop pretending that we live in an island?

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