Break new ground if you want to change perceptions

Are you a T-shaped designer? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you’re probably not – or maybe you don’t subscribe to management journals.

This admirable descriptor is filtering into design from management consultancy McKinsey & Company, via a couple of creative industry pundits. It denotes a designer who is broad enough in outlook to venture beyond the discipline they trained in to see design as a whole, while still going for excellence. It’s a laudable title and one that graduates of the overspecialised design degree system will find hard to earn in the short-term without an awful lot of drive.

Paul Priestman is a T-shaped designer. Indeed, many of his team at Priestman Goode can claim the distinction, given that a studio founded on product design expertise has developed its vision to such an extent that it is now working on a hotel for one of the UK’s few design-led entrepreneurs, Simon Woodroffe, founder of the Yo! Sushi empire.

The project is a logical step for Priestman’s group. A business hotel is, in his words, ‘a manufactured environment’ giving appropriate, but simple service, rather than a piece of architecture. It is not unlike the plane and train interiors for which his team has earned a strong reputation in recent years, he reckons. Other designers might find it harder to make so big a shift and might not, therefore, find themselves even pitching for such a project.

It is not new for designers to think laterally – or, as Priestman promises for Yotel, to turn what is accepted as the norm on its head. Charles and Ray Eames were renowned for their breadth of vision and more recently we’ve seen the likes of Michael Wolff and Richard Seymour famously shift from one discipline to another.

Nor are we short of entrepreneurs. All bright design groups have them at the helm. Sadly, entrepreneurialism can have its downside, as the 19 Fitch London staff whose jobs have been axed following chairman Rodney Fitch’s decision to refocus the business on what it does best have found (see News, page 3).

Fitch himself is, along with the likes of Michael Peters, Terence Conran and Wolff, one of the most recognisable T-shaped designers of his generation. We therefore hope that his strategy works for the WPP Group-owned consultancy, bringing benefits not just for the shareholders but for Fitch staff and clients.

Design needs a lot more T-shaped designers as role models at all levels of the business, which is why we need both Priestman and Fitch to succeed in their initiatives. With trailblazing role models like these, there is hope of the industry building its influence with both clients and consumers.

Lynda Relph-Knight

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