Strong leaders are crucial if design is to make an impact

Roger Hughes is right to cite leadership as a key attribute for any consultancy bent on success.

Lynda Relph-Knight

Roger Hughes is right to cite leadership as a key attribute for any consultancy bent on success (see Business Insight, page 21).

Whether or not leadership is something you can foster in an individual, as Hughes implies, is debatable, unless the traits are already there. But certainly, in design there is evidence of strong teams – often trios of people with complementary expertise – providing effective leadership along the lines of the model promoted by Michael Peters in the 1980s which led to the foundation of Stocks Austin Sice (now owned by Publicis) and Wickens Tutt Southgate (now Brandhouse), among others.

Leadership takes many forms and we are blessed in design with various examples of how to rally the team, while also engaging the client. But we’d like to see organisations like the Design Business Association and D&AD – still without a chief executive after almost a year – taking design outside their immediate patch to gain broader recognition of what design can achieve.

Of course, it is within the Design Council’s remit to take design to Government and business and we wait with interest to see how new chairman Sir Michael Bichard builds on its legacy to achieve these ends. Michael Thomson, president of The Bureau of European Design Associations, has shown what can be achieved through his successful lobbying of the European Commission to effect a design policy for Europe.

Sunday’s debacle over the Olympic torch notwithstanding, we might have had more confidence in how the UK presents itself to the world had the design bodies used their collective clout with the London 2012 organisers to urge them to appoint a high-profile design tsar for the games.

We are not short of experienced candidates – elder statesmen of design like Michael Wolff, John McConnell, Mike Dempsey or Martin Lambie-Nairn might do an admirable job or help the organisers select a champion. We just lack influence with Government and the Olympics team, which might be rectified with more prominent leadership within design.

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