Exhibition debate must hear the client’s views

Still the debate rages on about the poor performance of the public sector in commissioning exhibition design. The latest contribution from Mark Magidson, who worked on the Earth Galleries at London’s Natural History Museum, blames the brief (see letter opposite).

Those who saw the briefs for the British pavilion at the current Lisbon Expo and its sister for Hanover 2000 – subject to a joint pitch – can bear this out, as can anyone involved with the Millennium Dome or other Millennium Projects. Tales are of bureaucracy run riot and lengthy contract wrangles over issues such as copyright. Add to this the civil servants’ apparent lack of experience in project management and you see why costs tend to escalate so rapidly.

The debate on our letters page has, so far, been one-sided, with only designers venturing their comments. We would welcome input from clients, particularly from the Department of Trade and Industry – responsible for commissioning the Expo designs – and from the ever-silent New Millennium Experience Company.

But it isn’t all bad. For every sorry tale we hear of public sector design management in this field, there’s a great success story. The trouble is, those happier projects, where the passions of the client and designer gel, rely on the patronage of a committed individual on the client side. Yet the nature of both politics and the Civil Service is that people are moved around, and passion for a subject isn’t a criterion in allocating jobs.

The only way the public sector will get the best for its money in exhibition work is to create dedicated divisions, staffed with specialists, and build quickly on the design management culture the Design Council is trying to help the Government foster throughout the Civil Service.

A good alternative

Who’d have thought in the Eighties, when the seeds of branding were being sown, that alternative medicine would prove to be such lucrative business for design. In those days it was supermarket own-label, particularly for wines and spirits, that created the stars. But, in the caring Nineties, we find high street chemists Superdrug (see Client Study, page 17) and Boots the Chemists taking the lead in design, with brand extensions such as Boots’ planned Sandwich Shops in the offing (DW 4 September). Moves by homeopathic remedy brand Nelson’s and others are even more remarkable – and very welcome. It’s good to see such therapies, previously regarded as “cranky”, appealing to a wider audience.

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