Rodney Fitch pointed out this week that when asked why he was involved in design, William Morris replied ‘To give hope.’ How many designers would say that today? Certainly, Fitch, the newly- appointed boss of Fitch Worldwide, would, despite perceptions of someone at the helm of one of WPP Group’s flagship global businesses.
Of course, Morris, a founding father of the UK design scene, was speaking in the late 19th century, when poverty and disease were rife and democracy not a concept many understood. Hope was to be gleaned from wherever it could be found – hence the growth of austere religions such as Methodism and the rise of spiritualism among those keen to get in touch with loved ones who had ‘passed over’.
But hope is just as important an objective for design today. While religion may not be so prominent, we turn to the gym or spa to rediscover our spirituality and physical well-being.
We have heard, and applaud, cases made for design as an effective business tool that improves profitability. The Design Business Association’s mission to promote design effectiveness is echoed in the findings of the Design Council’s latest report, which reveal that a sample of 63 companies deemed to be ‘effective users of design’ outperformed the FTSE 100 index by 200 per cent (DW 4 March).
But hope – or humanity – is a higher aim for design and if you get it right financial gain is likely to follow. A sense of humanity underpins initiatives by the Design Council, the Sorrell Foundation and others to improve life for the aging population, in schools, in healthcare and in prisons, but there is room for it elsewhere.
It is perhaps easier for product designers to address hope in their work. Objects have a tangible impact on the end user and direct feedback is more likely than with, say, a piece of print or pack graphics. But remember that people are involved in every transaction, whether business-to-business or consumer-driven.
Design can also play a part in raising issues. Morris used it as a manifesto, albeit for an elite following, and the exhibition Pax Britannica examines design in the war arena (see feature, page 20). Far Eastern countries see design as an integral part of their social and economic development and South Africa launched its first D [for design] Day last month in a bid to build on indigenous design as a spur to national growth.
Nothing has really changed since Morris admitted his motivation, so why is there more apparent concern for the client than the end user in contemporary design? Making things better for people is a noble objective and it even makes business sense.