World Design Capital

In Conversation

Thanks to a consortium of passionate individuals and organisations, Sydney is in the running to claim the title World Design Capital 2020. The harbour city is competing against the French city of Lille with the winner to be announced in October. If Sydney wins, it will commence a year-long program of activities and events looking to redesign the city from a single strong CBD into three "30 minutes cities" shaping the future for urban expansion and tourism.  

The proposal was put together by the Sydney design community led by the City of Parramatta, NSW Architects Registration Board, Good Design Australia, Frost*collective and the Committee for Sydney. 

ADC's Lisa Cahill spoke to ADC's Australian Design Honouree Tim Horton (NSW Architects Registration Board) about why he thinks the proposal is important and what it means for Sydney in a time of massive urban and population growth. 

What is World Design Capital?
The World Design Capital (WDC) is designated every two years by the World Design Organisation to recognise a city’s innovative use of design to strengthen economic, social, cultural and environmental development. Through a year-long program of design-related events, WDC provides a platform to showcase best practices in design-led urban policy and innovation, increase civic engagement, as well as attract business and tourism. First launched in Torino (Italy) in 2008, WDC has also been awarded to Seoul (South Korea) in 2010, Helsinki (Finland) in 2012, Cape Town (South Africa) in 2014, and Taipei (Taiwan) in 2016. Mexico will be WDC in 2018. An Australian city is yet to be awarded a World Design Capital 

How does the selection process for WDC work?
The World Design Capital designation is not always given to the biggest or the most successful city. Often, the designation recognises a city that is using design to address problems shared by cities around the world. The criteria for selection includes;

  • A city’s existing design assets
  • A city’s plans for using design to renew itself
  • The ways in which citizens benefit from the use of design in city planning
  • The capacity to organize and finance a year-long programme of design events
  • The mobilization and participation of the wider design community and large sectors of the population and visitors
  • The fostering of wider dialogue on urban revitalisation strategies.

What would it mean for Greater Sydney if we are selected for 2020?
Greater Sydney can be greater still.  The objectives of the WDC include to;

  • Showcase Sydney’s use of design to reinvent itself and improve the quality of life of its citizens
  • Promote Greater Sydney and its design community on the international stage
  • Increase public awareness of the power of design to strengthen economic, social, cultural and environmental development
  • Inspire other cities to use design as a strategic tool to grow and prosper
  • Promote Sydney as a hub for an international network of cities sharing best practices in innovative design
  • Ensure a design legacy flourishes in a designated city long after the WDC year ends

We want the legacy to be:

The 3 year WDC program of preparation and delivery allows Sydney to lead by example. Not only is the bid an open platform for design innovation, but aims to leave a legacy. We see the work to build this legacy in two parts;

 1. Preparing for legacy

Sydney World Design Capital 2020 aims to be an open platform for design innovation in cities. We want to share what we’ve learned, and want to learn what others will share with us. We see the period from 2017-2021 as a city-wide research project in determining the metrics by which impact can be measured. UTS and Deloitte will provide monitoring, measurement and evaluation of the impact of the World Design Capital program to the Greater Sydney metropolitan region. The work will commence in 2018 with an agreed baseline across social, cultural, environmental, economic and skills-based metrics. A key focus of the work will be to identify the datasets we currently lack, and those which give us a qualitative as well as quantitative measure of success. 

2. Sustaining legacy – The Sydney Design Exchange (SYDx)

The Sydney Design Exchange is an active design innovation hub that utilises the collective intelligence of the design sector, in a co-creation environment with a mission to both incubate and accelerate design capacity in business enterprise across Sydney and Australia. The SYDx combines three streams in its purpose:

Design services

SYDx will act as a forum to introduce not for profit groups and small to medium enterprise (SME) businesses to early design capability and user experience to help develop an early understanding of potential directions and options for local place making, business strategy or development of new products, materials or technologies. The SYDx design environment will provide SMEs with studio space to help shape early thinking and advance to the next stage: gaining support, raising funds, and building projects. SYDx will connect government agencies and authorities, and nonprofits to preliminary design strategy and services by matching them with architects, landscape architects, service designers, design engineers, cost estimators, and other volunteer design professionals driven to create public good.

Design accelerator

The Design Accelerator creates an open source sandbox environment to develop world-leading design strategies for business in three primary areas of impact;

  • Design impact for more resilient cities and communities
  • Design impact of emerging technologies; smart contracts, impact investment
  • Design impact for social inclusion and diversity 

Design literacy 

SYDx will act as a hub for building design capacity and design literacy through a sustained program of public engagement, exhibitions and program development aimed at lifting community awareness of design impact. SYDx will act as a kind of ‘design impact hub’, connecting designers with educators, journalists and other media, and government authorities. 

  • Design media resource centre; curating events, exhibitions, talks and tours and acting as a media advisory service connecting mainstream media with designers; design educators and researchers.

STEAM school; connecting educators with design resources, teaching aids and pedagogy aimed at years 5-12.

Research from past WDC cities show that a WDC designation can;

  • Gain global visibility as a hub of creativity and innovation
  • Attract investment, tourism and civic pride
  • Strengthen economic development
  • Improve the quality of life of its citizens
  • Position itself as an international leader in design
  • Build its global image, and
  • Join an international network of design-effective cities

Who is WDC for and how can people get involved? 
Sydney’s bid aims to be radically inclusive and leap into a massively public program that spans government and policy, projects and design practice, public attitudes, traditions and rituals. Our aim is to connect with 2,000,000 worldwide, engage with 200,000 Sydneysiders, and grow 200 new WDC design leaders to incubate the future. We see Sydney’s strength being in its geographic and cultural diversity. We see diversity as a strength, at a time when not all cities see it as such. We see our connection to landscape in Sydney as a connection to climate, at a time when the climate is changing.

For now, we need to focus on building the broadest support for this bid. We have a few months to show that Sydney wants this title. Get involved through social media. Check out @SYDWDC2020 #SYD #WDC2020 on Instagram and Twitter. Spread the word. Upload what Sydney design means to you and let the world know we want to use the title of World Design Capital as an open platform to design Sydney’s future

Good luck Sydney! 


Photo: Sydney street view, across Harris St Ultimo looking to the CBD - image courtesy of Sydney WDC 2017.