Tackling industry apathy

Ruth Nicholas finds out what the Chartered Society of Designers is planning for the future and how it intends to become the lead body in the design industry

There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion, as Carl Jung observed.

Design is an emotive business and if the Chartered Society of Designers is to succeed in transforming itself into the industry’s leading body it will need to win designers’ hearts as well as minds.

The CSD effectively stepped out of its self-imposed darkness with the announcement of plans to extend its remit last week (DW 8 November). President Stephen Hitchins detailed the plans to members as part of the CSD’s annual report. The initiatives will be voted on at its annual general meeting on 21 November.

Its ambition to set the industry standard and to become its unimpeachably premier body is based on attaining full accreditation for individuals and eventually consultancies and in-house teams. Furthermore, it is determined to raise the profile of the MCSD affix and make it the pre-eminent design qualification. Chief executive Frank Peters is equally committed to raising not just respect for the society within the profession, but raising the profession’s standing in industry, with the public and in Government circles.

With the wilderness years of crippling debt and disciplinary matters that threatened the stability and very survival of the society now behind it, arguably the CSD’s greatest enemy is apathy.

Peters knows it too. ‘Apathy has always been an issue. How do you tackle it? I’m not sure you should try to. We have been coping with it for 70 years and we have come a long way. There is a lot of apathy out there, but there is still an amazing amount of people who are willing to commit themselves to working for the industry,’ he says.

Apathy is the common foe of all industry bodies and professional organisations – after all, people would much rather practice their craft, service their clients and improve their bank balances than devote themselves to the great and the good of all. Perhaps in the CSD’s case the problem is more acute, given the time it has had to spend sorting out its internal affairs. A series of high-profile resignations did nothing to bolster its credibility in the midto late-1990s. Neither did its debt, which teetered towards the £1m mark in 1995 and which has now been reduced to under £100 000.

Its decision to put its head back above the parapet has been broadly welcomed by industry. Design Council director of design and innovation Clive Grinyer, who is also chairman of Design Unity, offers a typical view. ‘The CSD has had a rush of new energy, which is terrific. It has ambitions to join the canopy of design organisations and there is room for it. It has a distinctive role and there is a unique place for it alongside other organisations that do a great job for design. Having all constituencies in design well represented and with strong voices can only be good. Design Unity is extremely keen that everyone comes together and that [the various bodies] integrate better,’ he says.

The CSD has never been a member of Design Unity, but is about to embark on its first educational event in conjunction with it. Grinyer remarks that he is delighted with the CSD’s involvement and welcomes the spirit of co-operation.

Design Business Association president and Priestman Goode director Paul Priestman describes Hitchins’ statement as ‘a brave and frank assessment [of the CSD] that shows it is attempting to put its house in order’.

‘There is room for the CSD [given its remit in representing] individual designers. It is important that we work together, particularly at a time when there are jitters within the industry and the economic climate [is depressed],’ he says.

The CSD’s membership has dwindled from its 1991 peak of 9000 to 4687, but it has stemmed the flow, which had been averaging between 6 and 7 per cent drops a year, to a 2.5 per cent loss in 2000 and is now seeing numbers increase. Peters says its target is to have 10 000 members by 2005. Increasing membership is crucial from a credibility point and for its bottom line.

Not all of its plans have been received positively. Reservations have been expressed about its proposed mentoring scheme and surprise registered at its choice of president-elect, fashion designer Jeff Banks. Peters is staunch in his defence of both. Banks, he argues, has made an enormous contribution over the years to the society through his lecturing and involvement with its educational programmes – particularly the New Designers initiative in which he has been ‘instrumental’ – and in promoting the CSD. ‘His contribution is widely recognised,’ Peters says. Banks also lectures widely on the importance of professional practice and his international connections are invaluable, Peters adds.

He rebuts criticism of the mentoring scheme, which created an affiliate group of members who receive all CSD benefits for up to two years. Mentored members are effectively being given two years to make the grade with the help of two consultations per year. Peters rejects any suggestion that it might lead to a watering down of standards – ‘Far from it. The assessment criteria have been strengthened and tightened. If anything people have to work a bit harder. I see nothing wrong with helping people who will hopefully make the grade,’ he attests.

On reflection, Peters might welcome these criticisms. If Jung was right, emotion is an essential antidote to apathy.

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