Aspiration is the key to a new golden age

It’s surprisingly opportune to be harking back to the work of design great Henry Dreyfuss (see Old Master, page 12). There are strong parallels between the post-war contributions of Dreyfuss to the American Dream ideal of the Fifties and the mood that is afoot in the UK today.

The intervention of Tony Blair and other major political players in the UK design scene is a welcome boost to awareness of British design and its positive effects on businesses, at home and abroad. This autumn’s Creative Britain workshops, organised by the Design Council but stemming from Blair’s design soirée at 10 Downing Street last month (DW 25 July), are designed to do just that. Hopefully, one outcome will be to encourage UK manufacturers to trade more on the quality of their designs.

If the likes of Raymond Loewy, Walter Dorwin Teague and Norman Bel Geddes had a mission, it was to boost sales of US products by using styling to create fashion, and therefore obsolescence, for everyday objects from cars to fridges. Prompted by America’s big corporations, it was about fuelling consumers’ aspirations.

Blair’s initiative is also about fuelling aspirations, but we’d like to think it has a deeper root than Dreyfuss believed the output of industrial giants such as General Motors had back then. However desirable as collectables Fifties icons have become – such as the cars created by style legend Harvey Earl – they remain a triumph of style over content: something I don’t believe has a part in Blair’s thinking for design.

Blair appeared sincere about his commitment at the Downing Street event – if a little in awe of the talent of his designer guests – and the speed with which the Design Council has so far driven the initiative is laudable. The Creative Britain workshops are unlikely to be just talking shops if design minister John Battle has anything to do with it. He went on record the other day with the view that there have tended to be too many initiatives in government and not enough action.

So the ball is firmly in the design community’s court to show the country what it can do, given the chance to explore its own creativity. But if those involved need to look to post-war America for inspiration, I urge them to pick on an original thinker such as Dreyfuss rather than the perhaps more fashionable members of the style brigade. “The man (or woman) in the brown suit” might not be the description any of us crave, but who’d turn down the chance to have such a strong influence over time as the man who coined the phrase “human factors” and put ergonomics on the international agenda.

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