Why team play is often vital to individual skill

Well-deserved congratulations go to TKO’s Andy Davey and inventor Trevor Baylis on being named Designers of the Year by the BBC (See News, page 6). Their sterling work on the Freeplay clockwork radio not only won the product prize in the BBC Design Awards – and scored with Design Week readers – it attracted more votes from BBC2 viewers than any other awards contender, hence the “Oscar” for its instigators.

It’s great that such a collaboration has been so honoured, but praise is also due to Davey’s partner Anne Gardener. Not being a designer, she didn’t merit a mention in the BBC’s citation, but her input was vital to the success of the project.

The omission of Gardener’s name in this instance points to a problem in rewarding personal achievement. The best projects tend to be complex and it’s invariably down to a team rather than an individual to get the right result. That team is likely to involve designers from various disciplines, but it might be a project manager, a copywriter or even the client who sparks a creative solution.

And if you insist on isolating a designer, who should you credit? Creative directors often take the prize, but how many of them actually design? Most have shifted into management roles. It’s one thing to honour one designer’s lifetime achievement, as the Chartered Society of Designers did last month in giving the CSD Medal to Ken Grange, but how to you identify who’s made the greatest contribution to design in any one year?

It’s not easy – as the CSD and the Design Council will find later in the year when they trawl for a recipient for their new joint honour for the “designer of the year”.

It’s great to see design acknowledged, particularly by an organisation as influential as the BBC. But let’s not get too sold on the idea of individual prizes without understanding what they mean. The reasoning behind the BBC’s scheme is quite specific, but the CSD and Design Council need to think very hard before pursuing their new “individual” award.

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