Promising start to the year is marred by Royal Mint contest

It’s been an interesting start to what is being billed as a difficult year. A raft of impressive job wins – this week, for example, a clutch of UK consultancies is celebrating the Etihad Airways project – is balanced by high-profile shifts, such as the coming together of The Team with Loewy group stablemate Loewy Brand Communications to create a formidable player in design.

The most far-reaching move though promises to be property developer Land Securities’ bid to set the agenda for clients to be better buyers of design. The notion of ‘driving value out of excellent design’ is one the various design bodies have striven for over the years and a mantra the Design Council might attach to its ongoing Designing Demand programme, which places designers in client companies.

That the initiative should come from a client though – albeit one with a first-rate track record in design – makes it very special. This is not about cutting costs for once, but about achieving more effective design. Let us hope that more high-calibre clients follow Land Securities’ lead.

One that is unlikely to do so is the Royal Mint. That it should launch a public design competition for the 50p piece is unbelievable, especially as its other current contests appear to respect professional procedures.

What is more remarkable is that Design Council chief executive David Kester should openly back the Royal Mint. His plea to ‘get the whole nation being creative’ has a resonance, but there are ways of involving ordinary folk in the design process without asking them to create the work. Ask The Sorrell Foundation.

Kester’s words don’t bode well for the council’s approach to design buying in the public sector, which it has pledged to improve. The Royal Mint contest is little more than a free pitch that might gain short-term media attention, but is unlikely to enhance design’s reputation with clients and the public in the longer term.

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