Project Lead for Design for Europe at the Design Council

MA (Hons) Enterprise and Management of Creative Arts, London College of Communication (LCC), 2008

PeiChin Tay studied MA Enterprise and Management of Creative Arts at LCC, graduating with distinction in 2008. PeiChin presently is the Project Lead for Design for Europe (the European Design Innovation Platform) at the Design Council. Design for Europe, a project that is co-financed by the European Commission at €3.8m, aims to increase the use of design for innovation and growth across Europe, targeting business people, public servants and policymakers.

We visited PeiChin at Design Council to catch up with her and find out more about her role and what she has been up to after graduation. Here PeiChin tells us about her career, how UAL helped her to get where she is today and design that goes beyond aesthetics, improving lives and making things better…

What made you want to come and study at LCC?

It has almost been 10 years since my graduation! I studied MA Enterprise and Management of Creative Arts, (which was later discontinued). I undertook this course as it was related to the work I was doing and to my career plans. At that time, I was working for the Singapore Government, on developing creative industries policies and programmes. I was keen to learn more about creative entrepreneurship and what makes creative industries thrive. London was the best choice to further my studies since it was the leader in this field. LCC had a very good reputation and this course was quite unique at that time.

What was the most important thing you were taught while studying at UAL?

What I valued the most about my MA was the range of visiting lecturers, including policy makers and practitioners from different backgrounds, which enabled me to broaden my perspectives. The most memorable one was the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, Lord Chris Smith, who was the person behind the creative industries policies in the UK, which then became an example for a lot of countries. We had been studying his policies and books, and finally hearing from the man himself was very inspiring.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Design for Europe – the project I am currently leading on. It has been a real achievement as it is the biggest project I have managed to date, and the first pan-European one. The remit of the project was very wide: to increase the use of design for innovation and growth across Europe. It was extremely challenging but also ambitious and exciting at the same time, especially as we needed to respond very quickly to the policy changes in Europe. Design was starting to gain real traction at the Commission, and this project is one of the first major investments in this area. It was very new for many partners and for our client, and we managed to overcome many challenges that occurred during this process.

I was responsible for managing a diverse range of stakeholders across Europe: 14 organisations with about 35 European partners, a large network of 47 ambassadors and a panel of 19 high-level experts.

Despite all the obstacles we had to face, the project was incredibly successful – the clients and the partners were very happy that we have created a much larger impact than we had expected or hoped for. We are currently looking for ways to continue this project beyond its funding phase.

Design council defines ‘design as a process – a method for turning new ideas into meaningful propositions for users’. Can you tell us more about projects you have been involved that are design-led and consumer centric?

Going back to The Design for Europe, we focused on integrating design-led processes within businesses, government and policy makers. The project shows that design applications can be very wide: design is not only about the final product or service but also about the innovative approach to the problem, coming up with ideas to effectively address those arising challenges. As much as design is a process, it is also about cultural change.

 

Design Ladder explains the different levels at which organisations can use design by the Danish Design Centre.

Design Ladder explains the different levels at which organisations can use design by the Danish Design Centre

Can you share some examples of when you made a big impact?

Piloting the first Design Support Programme for Malta is one of the most vivid fascinating examples, which really shows the true impact we have made from the ground to the policy level.

PeiChin Tay presenting a copy of The Design Economy to Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Economy of Malta, Nancy Caruana

PeiChin Tay presenting a copy of The Design Economy to Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Economy of Malta, Nancy Caruana

The story started from the seminar Design Council organised as part of a pan-European conference (SME Assembly in Naples), where design traditionally has never been a conference agenda topic – their usual topics were funding, regulations, business development, policies and so on. For the first time, we have managed to get design onto the conference agenda, and the event was inaugurated by the President of Italy. One of attendees from Malta, who attended our seminar, heard about how design can improve businesses and how companies can leverage innovation through design. This was the first time he has heard about design methods and tools for innovation – he was fascinated.

After the conference he returned to his organisation and told his colleagues that they needed to find out more about design, but his colleagues were sceptical. But he was very insistent, and eventually he persuaded his colleagues as well as the Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Economy of Malta to attend our first Design for Europe summit (European Growth by Design in Brussels), where they met many people from senior levels from government and business. Subsequently, they were convinced to take the design innovation concept seriously and became very engaged in design.

Later they organised an event in Malta, focusing on how design could contribute to innovation and business, the public sector and policy in a Maltese context. With this event they wanted to see if there were any other companies interested in design. The result was incredible, as they had a biggest turn out ever, demonstrating the growing interest in design.

Subsequently I appointed the CEO of the Malta Business Bureau as a design ambassador. We then collaborated on a number of events and roundtable meetings with key stakeholders, and today, design has become a central component in the Maltese mission to support enterprises.

 

PeiChin Tay with other European design experts and partners in Malta

PeiChin Tay with other European design experts and partners in Malta

The Design for Europe project with the Design Council demonstrates how design can transform businesses, create better policies and deliver more effective and efficient public services. What is the most challenging thing that design faces today?

Speaking from my experience from Design for Europe, we found two main challenges:

  • Policy makers – it is difficult to keep up with changes of political parties and re-shuffling following elections. It is a challenge to re-engage with people and get back onto their agendas.
  • The supply of the right design skills. Although businesses are very quick to understand the potential of the design, they don’t always find it easy to get the right designers to work with them. So therefore it is critical for us to approach design from an eco-system point of view.

What do you think is the specific skillset that is needed from the designers?

I think it is the ability to work in a multidisciplinary way. We often find that one person or a single department is not able to address problems effectively. We tend to rely on, say, the innovation or HR department to sort out our challenges. But, instead, we should bring people from different areas, such as marketing, finance, economics and so on, to work together and solve problems by coming up with innovative, beneficial solutions.

Another skill is the ability to communicate within a multicultural environment. This is very important as the world is becoming more globalised. Maybe in London we do not lack this skill, as we live in a very diverse, cosmopolitan city and we are used to working in a very flexible way. I think that is one of the reasons that I wanted to study and work in London.

You have worked in many groups and managed large teams. Does design management/design thinking really help to maintain healthy organisational culture? Can you share some tips?

When you think about design, you need to think about people. No matter how big or small they are, you need to treat them as equal individuals who can bring different things to the process. In terms of tips, I’d say that the key things for successful partnerships are:

  • People – a user-centric approach is key
  • Communication – you can never over-communicate
  • Trust – a foundation for any partnerships

Those ingredients are fundamental and helpful to create a strong and motivated partnership. A lot of times running projects can be a lot about the processes, but we must not forget that it is all about the people that can make this happen.

Can you tell us a little bit about the most exciting project you are working with Design Council on at the moment? And what other projects are you currently working on?

Another project I am overseeing is the EU Policy Lab. In simple words, Design Council has been appointed to be one of the key organisations to support the application of a design-led approach to policy formulation and implementation within the EU. We work on ways to combine foresight, behavioural insights and design thinking to explore, connect and find solutions for better policies. This project is very exciting and we feel very privileged to be part of this process.

What would be your top three tips for prospective students thinking of applying to LCC?

  1. Be a sponge, have an open mind.
  2. Be willing to take on new challenges and act on opportunities.
  3. Have fun in the process.

Try to enjoy your work and projects, even when it is difficult. I can tell you that when you will look back at it, you will think “oh, wow, that was the best time of my life”.

UAL is really great in supporting students and graduates in their career path. I think UAL has one of the best Student Enterprise and Employability services, so really make use of that.

What are your future plans?

I am expecting a baby now so that is my priority at the moment! I am hoping to work on more international and public sector or social innovation projects, especially related to design. Going back to my roots, I am incredibly passionate about the public service and I think there is so much more to do in this area.

Find out more:

Design for Europe

Postgraduate courses at LCC