Will design pay the price for doing good?

You can’t knock the Design Business Association’s Design for Good initiative (see News, page 4). Well, it is for charity, isn’t it? But you can question the priority DBA chairman Colin Porter is giving it.

The upside is that Design for Good should bring in more design work, albeit for low fees. It will draw attention to the good works already done by many design groups and build on that. The aim to cut across the industry, embracing consultancies and individual designers, DBA members or not, is laudable. And, if handled well, the move will fuel the argument for design’s effectiveness in delivering products and branding, and making sure money is well spent and success is measured.

But Media Trust is already linking designers to charities. Wouldn’t supporting that venture make more sense than setting up a separate entity? Why duplicate?

More scary is the DBA’s bid to raise funds for its business plan through personal donations. The DBA is not a charity: it’s a non-profit-making company. But raising funds in this way for such a fundamental strategy shows how tight its finances are. So tight that Porter and his board will have to prioritise the membership services and other initiatives they can reasonably back.

Porter has highlighted one area for attention – human resources – and DBA director Clare Anderson of Tutssels is already looking at how to help design groups be better employers and hone their people management skills.

This is more in line with the DBA’s main function. Better run businesses that put their people first are more likely to succeed – to everyone’s benefit – and be fun to work for. We might even see better work as a result. But it is still a “soft” area, given the challenges design faces.

Porter talked of generating “more money, more muscle” for the DBA when he took over as chairman. That means boosting membership, but we are yet to hear how the idea of bringing in-house designers into the fold is progressing.

He talked of closer links with the Chartered Society of Designers. But so silent is the CSD these days that Porter is as much in the dark as the rest of us about the appointment of a new acting director. Relationships appear no stronger and unity of voice for design is still a dream.

We look to design’s professional bodies to steer the industry through a difficult course. Yes, consultancies need more management training. But they also need good advice on working in global markets. They need to gain and maintain the edge over other creative sectors. And they need a champion to argue design’s cause. Where does the DBA stand on those issues, Colin?

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