Bichard needs to make the Design Council feel relevant

Lynda Relph-Knight

The Design Council marked the end of an era this week when it hosted a party for outgoing chairman Sir George Cox, who steps down next month.

Cox has arguably been the most prolific of the three chairmen who have steered the Design Council since its makeover in the mid-1990s by John Sorrell, who was appointed to the task by the then Tory Government. The Cox Review, commissioned by Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown during his tenure as Chancellor, mapped out a future for design in Government, business and education, building on the council’s programme. His dedication to design is legendary and design has a staunch ally there.

So what will Cox’s departure mean for the Design Council? While he is a man of commerce, his successor, Sir Michael Bichard, is an eminent educationalist. He has unified London’s disparate design colleges into the University of the Arts, of which he is rector.

There have been several staff changes at the Design Council of late, with the senior line-up seriously depleted by the departure of deputy chief executive Harry Rich. Rich extended the council’s reach into business, but the focus appears to be shifting towards public sector work, service design – through the regional Designs of the Time initiative – and skills.

We might expect Bichard to fly the skills banner, given his background and the fact the council now operates under the wing of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. But whatever tack he takes it would be great to see him engaging the design community more in the council’s endeavours.

Sorrell’s blueprint engendered strong links with design, manifested in the appointment of designers Sean Blair, Clive Grinyer and Richard Eisermann as successive design directors. But since Eisermann’s surprise departure in February 2006 the council has had no senior design presence on its executive and diminished relevance in the eyes of the design community. This needs to be addressed.

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