Using natural leaders to raise design’s profile

I’ve been taken to task about my views on talent shows (DW Comment 12 July) by those who say design needs all the heroes it can get. My point was that awards such as the Designer of the Year prize planned by the Design Council and the Chartered Society of Designers were tough to judge, given the complexity of design jobs. Who’s to say where the creative spark comes from within a mixed team, and a year is too short a time for a body of work to be assessed.

The counter argument is that any opportunity to promote design personalities should be seized. How better to hook the public’s interest in design? TV chefs have, after all, worked up a bigger appetite for haute cuisine.

I stand by my view of “individual” prizes, unless they’re for a lifetime’s work, but agree wholeheartedly in the underlying theme of encouraging leadership in design. We need our champions more than ever as industry’s order books begin to fill. But who should these leaders be?

You can’t drag champions on to the podium; they rise up on their own. And for design the impetus has come from entrepreneurs such as Terence Conran – (see page 12) – James Dyson and Paul Smith. Frustrated by industry’s reluctance to harness design, these designers have taken control of the process to great effect. Their reward? – public acclaim and the ear of some politicians.

There are ambassadors on the fringe of design. As a designer, John Sorrell is an exception. But Royal College of Art rector Christopher Frayling is doing his bit to batter down doors, partly to boost college funds, and there are others in industry who lead by example. Sadly, British Telecom isn’t among them, judging by its latest opus (see News Analysis, page 8).

Design has its own heroes. Michael Wolff, Alan Fletcher, Daniel Weil… the list goes on. But Seymour Powell apart, most are publicity shy outside the design community. To raise design’s profile we need to promote these talents further. How inspiring it would be for society and business to hear from these people first-hand. Any ideas on how to do it?

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