Raising the profile of the DBA for the good of design

One of the remarkable things revealed by our trawl for Vox Pop comments on the Design Business Association this week is the number of consultancy bosses who haven’t heard of the association.

Addressing this must surely be top of the agenda for Ian Rowland-Hill’s successor as chief executive, as without a strong representative membership no trade body can hope to wield influence over clients, Government or whoever it is seeking to court. A DBA membership of just under 300 consultancies cannot fulfill this brief.

True, we deliberately contacted groups that aren’t DBA members for Vox Pop, but the outcome must disappoint DBA stalwarts nonetheless, given that we only invited the views of groups featured in the 2002 Design Week Top 100. We thought those listed for their business prowess would have had some contact with design’s main trade body, even if they hadn’t joined.

Our research showed that only about a third of this year’s Top 100 groups are DBA members. Of those only five ranked among the bigger, arguably more influential groups in the top 20.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by this, given that 40 per cent of the groups listed are new to our annual chart. The spate of mergers and closures in the past year or so has left its mark on the industry. But many of the groups listed are well-established and we would hope that more would be aware of the DBA.

Like other design bodies, the DBA has much to offer, particularly in areas of training and promoting design effectiveness. But it clearly needs to get that message across more convincingly and to more people.

It isn’t the only official body to face this problem. From the Chartered Society of Designers to British Design & Art Direction, all need constantly to boost membership, to be representative of the sectors they cover and raise funds to deliver the best services for their supporters, as well as offer value for money.

And none of these membership organisations has taken a strong lead in pushing design’s cause in the wider arena, a task left by default to the Government-funded Design Council, which has no formal representative role for design businesses. When did you last see any of them cited in the national media, for example?

Media coverage isn’t everything, though I applaud contributions to DW defending the strengths of the DBA and other such bodies. Public profile, although lacking, is important for design. Perhaps Design Unity, the umbrella organisation linking design’s key bodies, should create ways of achieving this in its next session.

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