The goal of DesignLab Råstof is to provide a breeding ground for high-quality design production, thus increasing the economic performance of companies of this type. According to the founders of DesignLab, designers and artisans constitute an unexploited potential for manufacturing product design. The goal of DesignLab is to activate these resources. As a reaction to the current prevailing focus on knowledge and service industries in Denmark, DesignLab is working for an improvement of the status of manual labour and of the conditions for economically viable production companies. DesignLab is a reaction to the academisation of the labour market which, according to one of the founders, has created a uniform and intolerant work culture and labour market. The design business is an obvious field in which to include manual labour. However, innovation and creativity is a very peripheral part of the training of artisans at vocational schools. At the same time, designers and creative professionals often struggle in establishing a production process for their designs. Therefore, the strategy of DesignLab Råstof is to connect these two worlds: design and artisanship. The strategy is based on the idea that this interaction will, firstly, make both parties better at what they do, and secondly, create better products. DesignLab works for facilitating and qualifying this interaction; thereby connecting needs and resources.
DesignLab was launched in 2013 by its two founding partners and from the beginning it has been based on cooperation with the Bispebjerg neighbourhood committee. DesignLab is organised as a private company, currently funded by the European Social Fund and Copenhagen Municipality. At the end of 2014, the work of DesignLab will be evaluated, and the company will possibly be integrated as a more permanent supplier of employment activities for Copenhagen Municipality. DesignLab is run by its two partners, one employee and two trainees. Additionally, they employ a broad network of freelance teachers, practitioners and mentors. The target audience is a wide range of sub-employed designers and inventors referred by the job centres of Copenhagen Municipality and the Capital Region. The project is thus both people- and place-based as it connects designers from all over Copenhagen with Bispebjerg-based vocational schools and their students. The main activity of DesignLab is a ten-week programme including courses on business development, enterprise and product development alongside the cooperation with trainees at the local vocational schools (e.g. smiths, cabinetmakers and bricklayers) on the production of prototypes of the designs. Facilities at Bispebjerg’s vocational schools are utilized, e.g. workshops and machines.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
For DesignLab, diversity revolves around inclusion, tolerance and openness regarding business and employment. They work for a more open and tolerant market and work culture with room for more unconventional thinking and alternative businesses (e.g. based on manual labour and production instead of academic knowledge). Rebuilding the status of manual labour and local production is a part of this idea of diversity. DesignLab works against a uniform and excluding labour market. Additionally, interaction and cooperation across professions is seen as a cornerstone in the development of viable and innovative products and companies. As opposed to a focus on their unemployment, the course participants are regarded as individuals with a range of characteristics to be taken into account. This indicates an acknowledgement of the hyper-diversity that influences individuals and their situation in life.
Main factors influencing success or failure
There are two primary external success factors that affect the success of DesignLab Råstof. Firstly, obtaining status as a supplier for the employment administration of Copenhagen Municipality (which will be assessed this year) is a financial necessity for the survival of DesignLab. The partners are optimistic that they will succeed. Secondly, problems with low educational standards, poor reputation and general unemployment for manual workers in Denmark has become a topic in recent years, and the need for a re-evaluation and reformation of vocational schools have been realised both politically and administratively. This increases the possibility of future improvement of the field, which will aid the work of DesignLab. Along these lines, a counter-reaction to academisation amongst creative professionals seems to be emerging with for instance architectural students switching to cabinetmaker programmes instead. A number of internal success factors are important. Firstly, connecting artisans to designers and creative professionals is an alternative solution to large-scale problems of unemployment. DesignLab thus handles issues and reaches people that the ordinary system cannot reach. Secondly, DesignLab is praised by its course participants for meeting people on an equal footing, treating them with respect and seeing them as more than just unemployed individuals. According to the founders, participants are met with high demands. Finally, it is necessary for the company to survive its first years that the two partners put immense energy and innumerable hours of unpaid work into DesignLab.
DesignLab struggles with a range of external failure factors: Firstly, finance is currently the largest obstacle that should be overcome. While they currently find ways to manage, it is a constant challenge. Secondly, navigating in the field of employment and labour market politics is difficult, as this can be very bureaucratic. A third external failure factor is the difficulty of cooperating extensively with the vocational schools: These are currently being reorganised and restructured, and they are struggling with poor reputations and low application rates. Along these lines, raising the standards and quality of manual labour and artisanship and renewing the education programmes is a very difficult (but central) task for DesignLab to meet. An important internal failure factor lies in the combination of a very tight budget and an overpowering workload. This is pressuring the project and demands a tough prioritisation. At the same time, DesignLab is faced with having to develop the company’s work processes and its formal set-up concurrently. Thus, being a new company under establishment is difficult. Another internal challenge is to build up an atmosphere of trust amongst participants and teachers in the programmes. Opening up and presenting ideas requires a forum of trust and respect where participants dare to share their thoughts and be open to criticism. If this forum is not created, the project cannot work successfully.
As a reaction to the academisation of the Danish job market and the simultaneous devaluation of manual labour and production companies, DesignLab Råstof works to enhance the qualification of the interaction and cooperation between creative professionals and artisans. This is based on the belief that designers and artisans will gain from this, and that it can function as a breeding ground for high-quality design production companies. The strategy of DesignLab is to activate and renew already existing resources by giving designers and artisans the competences of creativity, production, innovation and entrepreneurship. The strategy is to combine the resources of different professions in new ways with the purpose of improving professional standards and economic performance. This approach shows the innovative potential of DesignLab Råstof.