There are tough times ahead for Nick Butler if he is to honour the pledge he made in his inaugural speech as Master of the Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry (DW 1 December 1995). Wielding influence in high places is a formidable challenge for an industry such as design, whose impact can’t be measured in terms of pure economics. To wield it as openly and on as broad a scale as Butler intends is unprecedented among design’s dignitaries.
But, as our profile of Butler reveals (see page 12), we’re dealing with a seasoned fighter here. A pragmatic Yorkshireman, he’s looking for action not accolades during his time as master. And he is likely to pace the floor in the early hours in the interests of design – as he is notorious for doing on behalf of his own business.
So, you ask, with so many institutional heads in design, what’s different about this one? Don’t they all take up office with stirring speeches and worthy aims, and don’t they all sound much the same? Yes. But Butler differs from most in that he is not interested in the petty politics that divide design, nor is he afraid to say so. Institutional factions are counter-productive and unnecessary, he believes.
Nor is he a fan of the clique, where proceedings are closed to preserve an aura of importance rather than to respect genuine confidences and talking is the main concern. He will speak out and take action, he says.
Finally, Butler does not hold an unqualified belief in the power of design to save the world. On the contrary, he maintains designers’ days are numbered if they don’t discard the old ways and earn a leadership role in a changing world. Otherwise, in his words they deserve to become extinct ‘designosaurs’.
Butler is not the only champion to emerge for design. Nick Jenkins, Seymour Powell, Sir Terence Conran and so on are all doing their bit. But as master of the apolitical RDIs, Butler is arguably in the best position to bring unity to the industry and get a clear message across – and he’s not afraid to do it. In this he merits our support.