Never has so much conviction been expressed so consistently by Government about design’s potential for shaping Britain’s future as it has since the General Election. That ministers from departments outside the Department of Trade and Industry – the traditional seat of Government design policy – are likely to turn up at design functions is no slight against design minister John Battle (see Profile, page 18). It marks a welcome widening of Government’s design awareness and can only help Battle, who, like his Tory predecessors, has a full ministerial portfolio.
We also applaud the personal interest Tony Blair has shown in design – again, it should make the job of evangelising easier for Battle.
Nowhere has Government’s keenness for design shown more than in its support of initiatives to find a new identity for Britain – and nowhere have we seen so many initiatives since Green thinking became a popular focus in the late Eighties. We had Wolff Olins’ bid to brand UK plc ahead of the General Election; now we have the Britain report, produced by think tank Demos (see News Analysis, page 7); we’ll soon see Real Time Studio’s new “Britain” logo for the British Tourist Authority; and let’s not forget Blair’s Creative Britain image-enhancing workshops, scheduled for the autumn.
We need to alter perceptions of the UK and change British culture. But how do we engineer a forward-thinking image when we’ve told ourselves for years that ours is a heritage culture and our best shot is to portray ourselves as a nation of service industries? How do we build on the strength of tradition and blend it with the new dynamic ideas? And how do we express all this visually?
We have Demos’ thoughts on the subject, and it is good to know that it collaborated a bit with the BTA, whose own report, Living Britain, was published recently. But there is a real danger too many things are going on in parallel, and aren’t being orchestrated well enough as a collective bid for change. Why, for example, is BTA launching the Britain identity so soon after the Demos report and ahead of the Creative Britain workshops? Government has a hand in all three projects, so why not co-ordinate the outcome?
The identity issue has become all the more poignant with the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, who became an icon of a changing Britain to many people. Not since The Beatles’ heyday in the Sixties has personality swayed nations so. Let’s use the period of reflection prompted by this sad event to consider more closely our personal and national values before we tell people across the world how we think we should be seen.