Promote design’s place at the heart of business

You expect a study showing stagnation in British industry to put the argument in favour of good design. But the Design Council’s latest opus Design in Britain 2003-4 manages to support its commercial value (see News, opposite).

That many of the companies reporting rapid growth to the survey organisers appear to have achieved their situation through good use of design, in part at least, reinforces the message the likes of the Design Business Association have been trying to get across for years. The fact that the report shows there aren’t many fast growing companies has more to do with the overall economic picture than any failing in the use of design.

One of the key findings in the survey is that the companies using design at an early stage in the development of their products and services tend to be the more commercially successful. It’s not commissioning design on an ad hoc basis that counts. Design is far more effective if it is integrated into the business.

Two initiatives mooted this year should help to promote that idea more widely. First, there is the DBA’s vision of adapting its Design Does It programme – currently being rolled out across the Civil Service to enable public sector design buyers to do their job more effectively – to suit the needs of private sector clients. Then there is the move by the Design Council to get more designers on to the boards of non-design businesses as non-executive directors.

Both are admirable aims – and the sooner they are achieved the better, not just for design, but for the clients it serves. But for the best results we need closer collaboration between the industry’s official bodies and realistic funding from Government and other sources.

The DBA and Design Council are already working together on Design Does It, but there’s scope for them to play a dual role on a whole raft of other design-led ventures. Success in these would be compatible with both of their mandates and boost their influence.

By the same token, such initiatives need the support of the design community if they are to fulfil their potential. It’s one thing to look to the official bodies to do it all, but much more potent if individuals and consultancies play some sort of role.

Many people already play an active, if unpaid part in the industry – take the DBA board directors and members of the Design Council’s council. Most designers agree their consultancies benefit from their involvement, if only through interaction with their peers. It may be time-consuming, but it is time well spent – and it can be fun.

Let’s hope that next year will see more people putting themselves forward and taking responsibility for the future of design.

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