Philip Long: Creatively speaking, our future is bright

Some of the pupils who have visited the Design In Motion bus, part of the V&A outreach programme ahead of the Dundee museum's opening in 2018. Picture: Contributed
Some of the pupils who have visited the Design In Motion bus, part of the V&A outreach programme ahead of the Dundee museum's opening in 2018. Picture: Contributed
Have your say

DESIGN, innovation and creativity are key to Scotland’s long-term development, writes Philip Long

Scotland is an exemplary nation of designers and innovators, from the invention of waterproof fabric by Charles Macintosh and the pedal-driven bicycle by Kirkpatrick Macmillan, to the pioneering work of Patrick Geddes in improving urban living conditions and creating modern town planning.

Today Scotland is celebrated as a global leader in digital creativity, creators of Grand Theft Auto and the console versions of Minecraft, and in fashion, medical science and industrial design ranging from Ian Callum’s creative leadership at Jaguar to renewable energy technologies.

Innovation, enterprise and ambition are in our blood, which makes the Scottish Government’s focus on 2016 as the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design particularly fitting.

Tonight V&A Dundee will be using virtual reality headsets in the Scottish Parliament to show inside our building in full interactive 3D, sharing the experience we’ll be offering when our museum opens in 2018 with our MSPs, as we have done in communities across Scotland.

Our work in the build-up to the opening of course involves constructing the world-class museum and planning our exhibitions programme, but we have already developed a particularly strong focus on learning and community engagement. The vision for V&A Dundee is an international centre of design, based in Dundee but active across Scotland and beyond.

Last year, we travelled from the Borders to the Highlands and Islands and on to London with a travelling gallery exhibition, Design in Motion, showing contemporary designers based in Scotland who are all using digital technology in inspiring or surprising ways. We toured community centres, schools, colleges and universities to share these designers with more than 10,000 people.

The response to this was overwhelming. At every stop there was a palpable sense of excitement and enthusiasm, with people young and old delighting in the ingenious, playful and profound ways that our selected designers were working, from the fashion of Holly Fulton and game design of Sophia George to the 3D visualisation technologies used by Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Design Studio for heritage conservation.

Sparking inspiration in all of our communities is vitally important to Scotland’s future, from the primary school children just starting to understand the opportunities the world offers, to our public sector agencies and businesses, whether small enterprises or established global companies.

Design can be misunderstood as limited to beautiful, expensive objects, or dismissed as an indulgence for the privileged, but these ideas are fundamentally wrong. Design is a process, a way of approaching the world that deals with finding problems and testing solutions. It is about speaking to people, understanding what they want and need, and then developing ways of solving those problems – and ultimately improving their lives.

We have been developing these ideas in recent months with our first Schools Design Challenge, working with secondaries across Dundee and Angus to enable pupils to design ways of improving their schools or school lives. Over 1,000 pupils have taken part, in over 250 teams, leading to a shortlist of ten exceptional ideas that will be developed further with professional designers.

The impact of taking designers to our urban and rural communities, and of engaging school children with the idea of taking ownership of improving their own school environment, is significant. We want V&A Dundee to show the people of Scotland how design and creativity can be used to help others, to improve the lives of our communities, and to help develop innovation within businesses, making them more profitable and contributing to our economy.

In her New Year message, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stated the Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting enterprise and innovation, and to piloting new approaches to public service delivery in education and healthcare.

These challenges need creativity and innovation, which require a boldness to try new ideas, to prototype and test, to measure and improve. Ultimately, our most pressing social challenges must be addressed with the mindset and tools of a designer.

V&A Dundee will be a centre for these ideas and activities, supported by the new museum’s Scottish Design Galleries illustrating the extraordinary history of our innovation, and by a world-class programme of exhibitions organised with the V&A in London. In the build-up to opening in 2018 we’ll also be expanding our community work, right across Scotland.

The Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design is a celebration of Scotland’s strengths as a design nation, where we can take pride in our many historic achievements, but it is also a year in which we should all think creatively about the positive impacts we can have on society.

• Philip Long is the director of V&A Museum of Design Dundee. Find out more at