Sir John Sorrell is a model to follow in tougher times

Lynda Relph-Knight

You’d expect Sir John Sorrell to take a positive approach to design and its ability to conquer economic ills (see 12 May). He has long been a staunch design champion. As former chairman of the Design Council, current chairman of architectural and building watchdog Cabe and ongoing chairman of the London Design Festival he has shown that optimism, coupled with hard work, can reverse fortunes.

His work with his wife Frances at The Sorrell Foundation, particularly with schools, has shown that innovative design commissioning – using a mix of established and emerging design talent – can help to change social attitudes as well.

It is significant that he should raise the issue again in the week he goes to Buckingham Palace to receive his knighthood.

It is significant, too, that it comes at a time when some UK design groups are starting to feel the pinch. Last month, we heard of restructuring, including redundancies, at WPP’s The Brand Union (DW 17 April). Now it is the turn of Omnicom-owned Interbrand, ironically once headed by the Sorrells (see page 3), and we might expect others to follow.

One of the issues facing global groups – including independents like Navyblue Design and Start Creative, which are pushing their suit to emerging nations outside the UK – is the speed at which countries like Russia, India and the United Arab Emirates are developing and the demands that puts on their resources.

It’s easy to be caught out in the rush to meet new client and cultural demands, missing chances to build the UK client base in the meantime. But if you apply Sorrell’s thinking, creativity can win the day, as long as the consultancies involved don’t lose sight of what sets them apart from other marketing services agencies and gear up their businesses accordingly.

The flexibility and humanity embodied in design are huge assets for the industry as new challenges emerge. It’s about facing change head on and embracing it, as Sorrell continues to do.

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