Government should give credit to product designers where it is due

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With so much Government interest in design and innovation, product design consultants should be feeling excited about the opportunities such attention could bring to their business.

The Department of Trade and Industry, for example, has supported the launch of the Design Council’s Millennium Products initiative to the tune of 3.3m – additional funding to its annual 6.8m budget.

While the encouragement of innovation within small- to medium-sized enterprises and service companies lies at the core of the activity, employment of design is undoubtedly a critical partner in the process of bringing successful products to market.

Little wonder that the product design profession is more than a little surprised to discover its contribution is at best being sidelined and at worst being ignored.

It may not be deliberate – perhaps the specific Government departments charged with promoting innovation and products designed and made in Britain do not appreciate the critical contribution the design profession makes. If that is the case – whose role is it to enlighten them?

The Design Council is an obvious choice – indeed Millennium Products is an ideal opportunity to demonstrate the “partnership” process involved in innovation and new product development.

While Millennium Products seeks to encourage innovation within SME manufacturing, it fails to demonstrate the role of design.

This is not only an opportunity missed, but a disservice to the profession. We do not seek disproportionate credit for our role – but due credit would be appreciated.

Organisations inspired by the Millennium Products message and thereby wishing to invest in design are not being told the whole story. Case studies are not demonstrating how to employ design or where to seek advice.

Equally, the Government is not being given the opportunity to recognise design’s role. In export promotion of “designed and made in Britain products” knowledge of the designer is omitted.

The DTI may be successful in increasing the sales of these products and raising the profile in many instances, but it directly restricts the opportunity to increase service sector design exports – the majority of which falls to SME consultancies.

Leading design consultants are not merely “artists” employed to style products – they are, in part or in whole, strategic business advisors, innovation consultants, technology advisors, supplier sourcing specialists, manufacturing process consultants, material specifiers, project and brand managers. Their role to the success of a business is as important as any other business profession.

As a profession we must take some responsibility for the misunderstanding of our role.

The design profession, due to its competitive nature, is not best known for collaboration. However, we must pull together and prepare a case to demonstrate the critical role we can and must play.

We need to present ourselves to ensure that we are recognised and, critically, that we can share in the business benefits the promotion of design and innovation should bring to the UK design industry.

David Smith

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