The great leap forward for design

Your editorial regarding corporate identity clients was sobering (DW 27 January). You were surprised to find “a huge gap between what the designer thinks are the priorities for clients and what clients are actually concerned about”.

Your survey panel “shared the perception that the vast majority of design consultants did not actually have the skills to research and analyse strategic issues connected with identity and communication”.

Bad news, isn’t it? Worse still, it’s not new news. Marketing, production and line managers increasingly make design decisions in many companies without reference to in-house design capability or design consultancies.

If designers are not being consulted when strategic issues are discussed then design thinking is lost at the very time it is most required. Are designers content to see their work taken over by other disciplines? Consultants have already voiced their concerns.

You write that we assume that it is only the client who needs awareness-training. Now it appears there is work to be done on the design side. Are Continuing Professional Development programmes enough? A growing number in design education feel the problem has to be tackled at an earlier stage.

If design is not to be marginalised completely, a new type of design professional has to emerge – one who is aware of client needs and is accustomed to integrating and championing design in client organisations. We have to move on from the belief that there is only one role for designers. In fact, there is a whole spectrum of activity related to users, to the market, to new technology, to economics, politics, law and the global environment.

As I see it, we have two choices. We can do the most comfortable thing, which is to sit and talk about the problem at arms length. We can create learned committees, write reports, organise conferences and hope that a solution evolves. Or, we can take the big leap and try to find the new directions.

There appears to be a consensus of opinion that one of the most effective ways to achieve change is by a rethinking of design education. A start has been made. In many undergraduate courses, projects increasingly require broader investigation into client needs.

Giant strides have been made by current post-graduate design developments in both the UK and the US. A few years ago it was a lonesome road, now it is a recognised field of activity.

Programmes emphasise collaborative links between design, engineering and business faculties and large elements of industry-based teaching.

Success ultimately depends on the quality of the graduates. Understanding the new context of design, can they be employed usefully? There are early indications that this is the case. The most important thing is that we are doing it – learning from trials – taking the leap.

Naomi Gornick

Course Director

MA Design, Strategy and Innovation

Brunel University

Bob Searles at Associated Design Consultants on the modernisation of Lyons Maid’s dancing children logo (see News, page 6)

Latest articles