Financial support is in the pipeline for design businesses in London, but creative industries need to learn the lessons of working in ‘clusters’ to survive and thrive over the next five years.
That is the message coming from the London Development Agency this week, ahead of a conference on Monday to promote economic innovation in the capital. The LDA is looking to establish ‘pots of money’ for creative enterprise and innovation, as well as identifying intermediaries to deliver funding.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s creative industries commission, due to recommend proposals in June, is providing the impetus (DW 3 October 2002). The LDA is responsible for making things happen and head of creative industries Graham Hitchen expects ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘practical’ ideas for support.
‘We need strategies for intervention that are more in tune with the nature of the economy in London,’ he says. ‘The models [for this] should be small, but well networked, like the Centre for Fashion Enterprise being planned by The London Institute or the entrepreneurs’ club at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.’
Innovative working practices and the ability to spot opportunities are vital to the health of the sector, Hitchen maintains.
‘Innovation [in running a business] is the ability to adapt to new markets and network with your peers. Design businesses are very responsive, but equally they can be too attached to a particular niche. Innovation needs to be applicable across a whole number of different sectors and disciplines,’ he says.
Although creative industries readily form natural ‘clusters’ – areas like London’s Soho and Shoreditch, for instance – Hitchen says innovation must be pushed up the agenda. ‘We need to shift the debate on from innovation being something you do at the end or the side of the day,’ he explains. ‘The most successful businesses are constantly innovating and learning from each other.’
But for LDA support to be worthwhile, Jones Garrard director Mike Rodber urges Government to keep up with the reality of design.
‘There needs to be a better understanding of where design and new product development is now. There’s still a lot of misunderstanding in Government and a lot of preconceptions about [designers’ work].
‘Much of what we do [at Jones Garrard] is delivering innovation to the brand, designing products for fmcg companies by applying new technologies. [But] mention industrial design and you’re immediately put into a category that could be a barrier, not a gate, to opportunity.’
Rodber says design evolves to suit client needs, according to where wealth is generated in the economy. He maintains this has resulted in ‘dramatic’ changes over the past two years and says Government should take care to avoid a time lag in its understanding of the industry.
‘There’s a constant interplay between the needs of the client and how they’re delivered through design. Government needs a platform to keep up with a debate that’s going on continually.’
Rodber will be speaking at the conference alongside Imagination strategic planning director Ralph Ardill at a seminar on design in business. Other sessions and workshops cover intellectual property, knowledge sharing, creativity and finance (see Week Ahead, back page for details).
‘True innovation is not just about changing a product, a service or a marketplace,’ according to Ardill. ‘It is also about recognising and relishing the need to change yourself.’