Input from architects can be good for design

All the talk of convergence between design and other creative industries focuses largely on the relationship with advertising – hence the particular importance of The Partners creative director David Stuart’s presidency of British Design & Art Direction a

All the talk of convergence between design and other creative industries focuses largely on the relationship with advertising – hence the particular importance of The Partners creative director David Stuart’s presidency of British Design & Art Direction and the opportunity it gives to address some of the issues that divide the two sectors.

But while views are being aired freely about the relative status of advertising and design, another industry – or rather profession – is also slowly strengthening its toehold in design, that of architecture. Earlier this month we reported that US architectural giant Gensler was building a design team in the UK office under the Studio 585 brand (DW 2 February) and the shortlists for the Design Week Awards – to be presented on 27 February – show a healthy smattering of architectural practices vying with design groups for top honours in several 3D categories.

Last year, Callum Lumsden set up a loose association of individual interior designers in a bid to give what he perceived as a neglected discipline a voice. Though his own consultancy, Lumsden Design Partnership, is increasingly multidisciplinary, reflecting the demands of retail and branded interiors work, he and others at the group’s first meeting expressed a fear that architects were stepping into their patch.

While this might be so, it isn’t a new thing and is the basis of the much vaunted Italian design scene. Over here Pentagram partner Lorenzo Apicella, Eva Jiricna, Chris Wilkinson of Wilkinson Eyre and Michael Dowd of display design-and-build company Dimensions are among those architects who’ve long since crossed the great divide. And what about Marks Barfield Architects’ London Eye – is it a piece of architecture or a product? Practices such as Foster Associates and Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners have a good track record in product design, through John Small and design duo Eoin Billings and Duncan Jackson respectively. And so it goes on.

But rather than being a threat to design, surely the advent of architects enriches the UK industry, broadening its skill base and putting a different perspective on things. Moves by the likes of Gensler to tap into design meanwhile create great opportunities for designers – if it’s the retail market the consultancy’s chasing, for example, it will need retail and branding specialists on board in senior positions.

Architects traditionally have a lot of clout with clients, though their projects tend to be one-offs. Bringing that influence into design can only be good for all concerned. We should welcome these newcomers with open arms, encouraging them to take an active role in the industry.

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