A look back on the year 2023 and what to expect from 2024

“Our present was built by design, the world we live in now was built by design, our future is going to be built by design.” – Angela Oguntala in an interview with the Estonian Design Centre

The design field is undergoing significant changes worldwide. While the traditional design disciplines remain very important, design is also rapidly expanding to other fields, where it has not been in such use until now, but where it is much needed. Climate change, population ageing, problems related to urbanisation, healthcare crisis, the unpredictable developments regarding the rapid development of AI etc – designers and other creators are needed more than ever to help tackle these big challenges. 

One of the aims of the Estonian Design Centre is to constantly monitor the changes and developments in the design field worldwide and to react quickly to them, bringing fresh and topical issues to Estonia. What is happening elsewhere in the world also impacts Estonia, and the need for design and the opportunity to use design to face different challenges is one of the goals we are working towards.

Though a challenging year in many ways, 2023 also brought a lot of interesting things for the Design Centre

We continued addressing topics on sustainability, the circular economy and circular design, as well as focusing on the role of and opportunities related to strategic foresight and design.

We are incredibly proud that in 2023 we managed to organise two international masterclasses. Internationally renowned and recognised trainers conducted two days of practical training programmes on our key topics. Its aim was to keep Estonian designers up to date with international developments, providing them with the knowledge, skills and tools to enable them to provide a higher quality and more innovative service in Estonia, to be internationally competitive and to create new collaborations for the future. Leyla Acaroglu, a designer, sociologist, entrepreneur and a sustainability provocateur, led a masterclass in May titled “Strategic Sustainability and Circular Business Transformation for Service and Strategic Designs”. In September, two prominent futurist designers Angela Oguntala and Luke Sturgeon (design agency Greyspace, UK) held a Future Foresight Masterclass.

Future foresight masterclass by Angela Oguntala and Luke Sturgeon

We also address the topics of future foresight and sustainability in the ERASMUS+ project Future Foresight for Sustainability. The project aims to showcase and promote approaches to future foresight, sustainability management, green business models, digital skills and green product/service development to businesses, that are based on the best international customs, practices, and methods. The project has partners from Finland, Denmark, France, Germany, and Slovenia. There are other participants from Estonia in the project in addition to the Estonian Design Centre, such as the Tallinn University of Technology, the North Estonia Medical Centre, La Muu and Comodule. The Design Centre's role in the project is to carry out lifelong learning, and, through the project, the Centre will deliver foresight training programmes for businesses and designers, with the first training taking place as early as March 2024.

In 2023, we talked more about the skills of the designers of the future. New challenges and opportunities await designers with new skills. Knowledge and tools of future foresight help to strengthen our collective imagination – if we are unable to envision a better future and new possibilities, then how could we design for it? More designers are needed who are able to think systematically, see both the bigger picture and the details, and can assess long-term impacts, and have the knowledge and skills to design solutions that are more sustainable, regenerative, equitable, and resilient. Knowledge and skills regarding sustainability and circular design are therefore essential. Not all of the responsibility regarding professional skills can be placed on the education system alone, as change takes time there - we need to be faster and more flexible, to provide opportunities for upgrading and retraining professional skills.

In order for there to be world-class design leaders in Estonia, we have brought an international design manager training programme, PARK Academy Design Leadership Programme, to Estonia, the 2nd graduates of which finished the programme in 2023.

The 2nd graduates of the PARK Academy Design Leadership Programme

We will continue to work with the Estonian Qualifications Authority “Kutsekoda” and other representatives of the design field to develop a qualifications framework for designers, which will include a description of the competencies/professional skills of designers. This will be followed by creating opportunities for the necessary further training and retraining. We hope to finish the large-scale work of mapping competences before Midsummer Day.

Another aim of the Estonian Design Centre is to support and develop cooperation between designers and other companies and organisations from different economic sectors. In 2023, we continued with Enterprise Estonia’s masterclass on service design and the digitalisation of services for tourism companies. A total of 48 tourism companies participated in the masterclass and had their first professional encounter with service design between January 2022 and June 2023. The aim of the masterclass was to promote the implementation of service design and digitalisation of services in Estonian tourism companies, with the aim of increasing the export and innovation capacity of companies and making tourism services more attractive on foreign markets. Our aim was to bring together the best expertise in Estonia to organise a high-quality training programme and to broaden the opportunities for designers to participate in the mentoring programme.

Each year we organise a series of events, activities, workshops, lectures etc, to raise awareness and develop discussions on the topics of the nature of design, developments in the design field, modern design services and their implementation, the benefits of implementing design practices in businesses and the public sector, and to share best experiences. During 2023, we organised 37 different events, with a total of more than 800 participants.

We conducted five circular design training courses and seminars, for both designers and entrepreneurs, including introductory training on circular economy and design, ESG and EU sustainability regulations, and conducting a circular design audit. We were active outside of Tallinn as well. Circular design training courses were held for creative entrepreneurs from Jõhvi and Narva and for entrepreneurs from Põlva County. Our Circular Economy - HOW? continued to be a popular series. In 2023, we talked about the footprint of digital services, the consumer’s willingness to stay green and the circular public procurement.

In a public series called Disainijutud ("Design Talks") – a series of public seminar-debates for all interested parties on various design topics, with practical examples, aimed at promoting design – the topics of 2023 were the new packaging of the Kalev confectionery company, artificial intelligence, typography, and design education.

For the second year in a row, we also organised Disainiampsud ("Design Bites"), a series of events where representatives of other fields come together to introduce and discuss their work with designers in order for everyone to establish new contacts, exchange experiences, and gather new ideas. In 2023, meetings were held on the topics “smart city” (guests Külle Tärnov and Silver Sternfeldt), “future foresight” (Johanna Vallistu) and “ageing” (Tiina Tambaum).

Disainijutud on the topic of future foresight, with Johanna Vallistu

We also focus our activities towards students. In early 2023, a web-based Design & Creative Thinking Development Toolkit – aimed at students and schools or organisations working with young people – was launched in cooperation with Latvian and Danish partners and with the support of Erasmus+. The toolkit supports the development of creative thinking among young people, including helping to facilitate career choices for young people, and promotes interest and awareness of the specificities and importance of creative thinking among informal education teachers and other professionals in the field, providing methodological material for further independent work with young people.

In 2023, we also started working on translating and localising Circular Classroom, a learning tool and educational material for middle school students. The educational materials aim to explain the topic of sustainability, to take a closer look at the challenges of a consumer society and a linear economic model, and to introduce a new way of thinking, focused on the cycle of life, to cultivate a systemic understanding to promote a circular economy. The materials will be translated with the support of the Environmental Investment Centre and will be available in Estonian for free in 2024. Additionally, in 2024, we will train teachers and instructors at nature centres to use these materials.

Come and visit us! We hosted several guests in 2023, including students from the Tartu Jaan Poska Gymnasium, with whom we shared knowledge and experience regarding the Estonian design field. We also hosted several delegations who wanted to get an overview of our design scene. For example, we were visited by delegations from Turkey and Taiwan, to whom we introduced the Estonian design field and shared our knowledge and best practices.

In 2023, we were also involved in other exciting topics, including the merger of the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design and the Estonian Museum of Architecture, the attempt to create a Design Endowment of the Cultural Endowment, EMTAK fields of activities, design procurements, feedback on various studies, participation in various legislative processes, etc., which do not leave a visible trace, but are essential for the development of the field.

Oh, right, in 2023, we also mapped Estonian design! We conducted a survey to find as many designers working in Estonia as possible, to get a better overview of the Estonian design field and the people working in it, and thus to better understand the industry. In February we will talk more about how exactly we did it.

Plans for 2024

The year 2024 will, again, be one of significant events. A major innovation conference, ISPIM 2024, takes place in Tallinn from 9-13 June, and the Estonian Design Centre is one of the co-organizers. The conference is an opportunity to highlight design as one of the key enablers of innovation.

Additionally, 2024 will also be yet another year for the Estonian Design Awards. In September, we will, for the seventh time, organise the most important competition and recognition event in the design field – the Estonian Design Awards 2024. In view of the feedback from designers, entrepreneurs and the jury members of the competition who have expressed concerns about the ability of Estonian designers to present themselves well enough, we will organise a seminar-workshop on "How to present yourself as a designer/design company and how to present your work both orally and in writing" during the submission period.

In 2024, we will continue with our focus topics – sustainability, circular economy, circular design, and future foresight, but we will also offer something of interest to everyone in the design field. Follow us for our latest news and updates!

Sustainability and climate change topics are already quite widespread in Estonia, with different organisations, workgroups and communities working on them. However, it still seems that cooperation and discussion of issues are still lacking, and the bigger picture regarding where we are headed needs to be more clearly defined. Each individual, organisation, and company has their own approach to solving problems, but the lack of a coherent plan, clear objectives and a coordinated action plan is noticeable. The year 2024 could be the one where we can work on and improve cooperation.

Roundtable on design education with representatives of educational institutions

In 2024-2025, we will, among other things, work on being able to offer designers more opportunities for meaningful professional development and retraining. We want to pay more attention to start-up designers and design entrepreneurs and make circular design more systematic to train the experts we need.

At the end of 2023, Enterprise Estonia, co-funded by the European Union, allocated a grant to the Estonian Design Centre for 2024. Its aim is to increase the capacity of Estonian design companies to provide high-quality design services, particularly in relation to the green transition and the development of innovative products, services, systems, and strategies. It also aims to create better opportunities for cooperation with companies and organisations from other economic sectors, both in Estonia and internationally. The aim of the project is to increase expertise in implementing the green transition and other organisational or global future trends. The project will, additionally, support the growth of the international profile, collaboration, and export capacity of design companies. This initiative reflects a clear change of direction, focusing on the challenges and opportunities related to the key dimensions of the design field.

With the support of this grant, we will, among other things, launch individual entrepreneurial coaching for design businesses, and we will pilot a mentoring programme for start-up designers/design entrepreneurs to support young design start-ups/entrepreneurs in their early stages on a variety of topics, be it orientation in the design world, entrepreneurship, product development, presentation skills, etc. To stay up to date with our developments and actions, follow our news information.

On the internationalisation front, we will continue with the development and inspiration trips for design businesses, which can essentially be called design business diplomacy trips. Their aim is to showcase local design developments, showcase the skills and capabilities of Estonian design agencies, expand their network of contacts, and promote international cooperation.

We will also continue with the highly sought-after designers’ international internship programme. The service is aimed at Estonian designers/design companies, who wish to improve their professional skills, or those of a team member, in a design company abroad and thus bring international experience and know-how to their own design agency.

To make ourselves better heard and to break down barriers, we need to pay much more attention to communication and to improve our storytelling skills to make the design field's opportunities, success stories and capability to tackle major challenges visible and understandable.

So keep an eye on our news and have a great, meaningful, and cooperative 2024!

Tiia Vihand
Director at the Estonian Design Centre