Prince Philip: “An incredible ambassador of design”

Following the Duke of Edinburgh’s passing, we look back at his contribution to design including the long-running designers prize that bears his name.

While Prince Philip proved a divisive figure in his life – largely thanks to his public gaffes – the Duke of Edinburgh left behind a significant design legacy following his death aged 99 last week.

He had, for example, been the patron of the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) since 1969. In those 52 years, the organisation says that he helped with its goal of “achieving recognition for the profession of design”.

CSD initially formed in 1930 as the Society of Industrial Artists in London’s Fleet Street. Following World War II, it placed an emphasis on the role of design in Britain and in 1963, its name was changed to the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers.

After the Duke’s appointment as patron in 1969, the society was granted a royal charter in 1976. He was involved in the organisation throughout his tenure, according to the society, frequently attending dinners and awarding its Minerva medal to inspiring designers.

The Duke himself was awarded the medal in 2003 for his contribution to design over the past half century. At that ceremony, he joked that “it was a delight to receive the medal rather than always presenting them at these dinners.”

When the society turned 50 in 1980, Prince Philip wrote in a commemorative publication: “Although design is probably one of the oldest of man’s occupations, it was only relatively recently that designers saw themselves as members of a separate profession, but as soon as they did so the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers was born.”

Prince Philip Designers Prize

In 1959, the Duke created the Prince Philip Prize for Design Excellence which recognised outstanding designs in the industry. It was later renamed the Prince Philip Designers Prize and was managed in collaboration with the Design Council until 2011.

According to the Design Council, it was created as a response to post-war austerity. “Its aim was to stimulate and reward elegant solutions to design problems,” the organisation explains. The Duke himself was on the judging panel, choosing winners depending on “the quality, originality and commercial success of their work, and the designer’s overall contribution to the standing of design, and to design education”.

In particular, it sought to reward products that were not purely functional, though the first winner was Charles Longman for his Prestcold Packaway refrigerator which was designed for small kitchens. Other early winners include Eric Marshall for the Rio transistor radio and Jack Howe’s design of the MD2 cash dispenser.

Over the years, the award shifted to recognise lifetime achievements rather than specific products. Its remit has been broad, from Alan Fletcher’s graphic work to James Dyson’s product design and Quentin Blake’s illustration. Martin Lambie-Nairn, Terence Conran and Thomas Heatherwick have also all been honoured.

“So much more than a figurehead”

Minnie Moll, chief executive of Design Council, says that Prince Philip “will always be remembered for his enduring passion for design and deep interest in designers from all walks of life”.

Singling out his contribution to the Designers Prize – the longest-running award of its kind in the UK – Moll says that it was a “huge privilege for the colleagues at Design Council at the time and members of the design community that were involved”.

She adds that he was “so much more than a figurehead”. “He chaired the judging panel each year, giving careful consideration to the entries, sharing his forthright opinions, and attending each celebrations without fail,” Moll continues.

Following a four year hiatus from 2011-2015, the Chartered Society of Designers briefly reinstated the prize. It was last awarded to the furniture designer John Makepeace in 2016. An offshoot design prize was also created – the Prince Philip Student Design Awards.

“He supported me massively”

Moll adds that the Duke was especially interested in nurturing the careers of young talent, and would encourage them to find inspiration in the careers of more established designers.

Adrian Westaway, co-founder of London-based studio Special Projects, recalls the Duke’s influence over his career. Westaway won an industrial fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 – an institution that awards scholarships to promising scientists and engineers – which was presided over by Prince Philip.

“He supported me massively then,” Westaway explains. “It enabled me to be able to go to Royal College of Art, and then funded me on a massively experimental interactive light project I patented after graduation.”

The designer also remembers how the Duke came to the degree show of the same light project. Because the space was so bright, Westaway had to buy golf umbrellas at the last minute to create a sense of shade.

“I remember the look on his security team’s faces when I pulled out ten huge umbrellas and handed them to everyone,” he says. “They thought I was an assassin or something.”

Westaway met the Duke again at another event for the royal commission. This time, he was working on a different design and he says Prince Philip inquired about his latest project. “Every interaction with him I had lasted around two minutes,” the designer says, “but I was genuinely impressed at how present he was in those moments, and his questions were really quite spot on.”

“His legacy is enormous”

While the Prince Philip Designers Prize has not been awarded for five years, design played another role at the end of the Duke’s life.

When details of his funeral arrangements emerged, it was revealed that his coffin would be carried in a purpose-built Land Rover that the Duke had helped to design years before.

“We at Design Council mourn the loss of an incredible ambassador of design. His legacy is enormous,” Minnie Moll says. “We will do all that we can to build upon it, as we continue our mission to make life better by design.”

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  • Arnold Schwartzman OBE, RDI April 13, 2021 at 3:27 pm

    I had the pleasure of meeting Prince Philip on several occasions.
    The following extract is from a piece I had written as a tribute to HRH:
    As a thank you for organizing a design related event at UCLA, Isolde and I were invited by the Royal Society of Arts to the Albert Medal lunch in London.
    We were seated at the top table, beside me was a previous medal recipient,
    Sir Claus Moser who on introducing himself reached across the table to the name card opposite me, it read, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.
    Moments later HRH arrived who on spotting me exclaimed, “Not you again”!
    During the lunch he brought to my attention the menu cover’s photograph of the Queen and himself at the unveiling of the refurbished Albert Memorial.
    “Have you seen it”, he enquired, yes sir I replied, our cab drove pass it yesterday on our arrival from Paddington Station.
    He responded with, “That Jocelyn Stevens believes that it’s a memorial to himself”!

  • Brian Webb April 18, 2021 at 2:40 pm

    As president of CSD at the time I nominated him for the Minerva medal, he was really delighted to receive it.

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