New Challenges investment could foster existing talent

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Product design rarely dominates the news, but this week is an exception. On the one hand, we have the knock-on effect the Government’s bid to boost UK manufacturing might have (see News, page 3); on the other, the battle is on between product design groups and university-based ‘consultancies’ (see Debate, page 7, and News, page 3).

The New Challenges, New Opportunities strategy announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday spells out issues such as the need for a low-carbon economy and to improve perceptions of manufacturing. Designers from various disciplines can take a lead in both of these, but given Brown’s belief that design can enhance the UK’s global performance, it could mean greater opportunities for product designers working in-house and in consultancies.

Ideo co-founder Bill Moggridge once said that the best scenario for manufacturing was a healthy balance between in-house design expertise – often focused on technical issues- and the use of external consultancies to stimulate ideas. Ideo now does far more than product design, but the observation, based on Moggridge’s experience of working across the globe, still holds.

Jonathan Ive at Apple has lifted humble in-house design to a potent force, with the backing at top board level. Meanwhile, consultancies such as Seymour Powell and Priestman Goode have shown that industrial designers can extend way beyond product to make a real difference to a client’s business, again with top-level support.

Let’s hope that UK manufacturers and consultancies seize the opportunities with the help of the £150m Government investment on the table. It isn’t only about building skills, but of making better use of existing UK expertise more often recognised by competitors abroad.

As for universities versus commercial product groups, it is too early to draw conclusions. There will be merits on both sides as the debate develops, but for product groups to state their case so eloquently – and unprompted – suggests that the issue is pressing.



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