It was China that famously sparked off Gordon Brown’s interest in design. Would the Chancellor have turned to the creative industries to salve the country’s ills had he not perceived a huge threat to the UK economy from the East? Who knows? But at least it fuelled Government involvement.
It’s a shame though that Brown saw China as a threat rather than the huge opportunity it could be for British design. His attitude explains officialdom’s protracted bid – starting with the Cox Review some 15 months ago – to fit the creative industries for the challenge ahead. April is the earliest we can expect organisations such as Creative & Cultural Skills to tell us how we need to shape up.
But design as an industry thrives more through entrepreneurial action than regulation. We therefore welcome the one ‘official’ initiative that acknowledges this.
UK Trade & Investment’s China Design Strategy promises support and a furthering of understanding for those keen to crack China as a market.
It offers more than the trade missions and it is sensitive to Chinese business practice in creating a two-way street for design groups going there and Chinese business delegations coming here to promote their brands across Europe and the US. And it is collaborative, involving bodies such as the China-Britain Business Council, Design Partners, the British Council and the regional development agencies to achieve its aims.
We are set to learn a lot from the initiative, given the ‘show and tell’ aspect of it. But already it has brought one strong message home. The Chinese do not have an appreciation of British design in the way that, say, India and Russia might.
With its preferred consultancy partners hailing from South Korea, Japan and Germany, according to the UK Trade & Investment team, we have a long way to go. This knowledge alone is enough to shake off the complacency behind our collective mantra that British design is best. Time to regroup.
Lynda Relph-Knight, Editor