Don’t let design suffer the same fate as industry

We heard a marvellous Dimbleby lecture from James Dyson last week, whose views on the folly of giving up our UK manufacturing base I totally support. We shall soon be reliant on imports for all our product needs. This may, indeed, be a threat to UK independence, since we are fast becoming a mere commodities trading house service that could easily be relocated to any European city. We need to rethink and rekindle our support for UK major industries before it is too late to catch up with global competition.

Mr Dyson, however, seems to be a little confused about what is ‘design’ and what is ‘styling’. Industrial design, now frequently called product design in the UK, is not about transient or fashionable styling. Simply put, it is an elegant and appropriate human/machine interface. Industrial design informs the co-ordination and integration of engineering technology, whether electronic, mechanical or the use of new materials.

I was Head of Design at Brunel University until a couple of years ago and I certainly focused on developing a close and healthy relationship with the engineering departments, while maintaining the independence of design. But since then design at Brunel has been consumed by engineering, which has subsequently lost its identity and has been overwhelmed by engineering bias.

Sir Misha Black was absolutely right to place design under the arts programmes to ensure its individual, independent and essential contribution to the development of viable, user-focused innovative products. His legacy is in danger of being eroded, to the detriment of product designers in the UK.

Professor Peter Isherwood


Twickenham TW1 3JF

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  • John Tomlinson ARCA December 23, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    Hello Peter,
    Very interesting your paper and views are just what is needed.
    We were at the RCA together from 1963. I was in Graphic Design, you in Industrial Design. Please let me know how to contact you. I will send you a video on a new project I have designed and you might like to contribute.
    With kind regards, John Tomlinson

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