This week Design Council design director Sean Blair has been putting the final touches to a report evaluating design counsellors’ role in the Business Links network which he’ll present to Government on 16 December. So what, you say. What benefits has the venture so far yielded to design? With only 44 design counsellors in Business Links offices so far out of a possible 80, there’s hardly been a constant flow of new work for consultancies. Even in London, where a group of designers has been persuaded by the Design Council to give their time for free (again) to serve on the Design Link advisory panel, you don’t hear of many jobs being doled out.
But whatever you think of Government-backed Business Links, Michael Heseltine’s brainchild looks set to stay. With a General Election seeming imminent and a shift in power being forecast, the Labour Party has endorsed the idea of a regional advisory network to help small and medium-sized firms. And, if it gets in this time, it’ll have more weighty matters on its mind than dismantling an innocuous Tory advisory service.
So Business Links will remain. But one point the Design Council and other design bodies have been slow to push is the potential value of the Links to design consultancies, not just as a way of winning work, but as a vehicle for getting heavily subsidised business advice for next to nothing.
If a small to medium-sized company is defined as having fewer than 500 staff, most design groups are eligible for help. Design Week’s Top 100 chart showed only building design group BDP exceeding that figure, with 804 people on the payroll; of the rest, only Landor breached the 300 line, with 329 staff worldwide (DW 5 April).
Government, clients and the media regard design as a small, insignificant industry. Yes, it’s small, but size doesn’t dictate influence or effectiveness – even in its heyday, the advertising industry wasn’t big. Performance and confidence are what counts, and if this means honing up on business skills, do it. Get out there and milk your local Business Link for all it’s worth.