Let’s hope Kenneth Grange retrospective gives British product design a boost

There is something horribly telling about Priestman Goode’s decision to open an office in China (see News, page 3).

espite its global reputation, particularly in designing planes and iconic trains, the London consultancy says it has no UK clients.

It brings home what has happened to British manufacturing in recent years. The focus by successive Governments and hence the Design Council has been on small to medium-sized enterprises and, for many, the design input has been more about branding and communicating services than about creating products.

The ’official’ focus is now more on design for the public good, with projects such as the Ultimate Pint Glass, created by Design Bridge with French company Arc International to prevent ’glassing’ in bars, and the Design Against ATM Crime initiative from Central St Martins College of Art and Design (see News, page 5). Design ideas emerge from such ventures, but manufacturers’ take-up is often slow.

And with British transport infrastructure fragmenting into various private concerns the opportunity hasn’t been there for the likes of Priestman Goode to pursue big projects. The commission to design, say, a new London bus doesn’t come along every day and when it does, as happened for Heatherwick Studio with London Mayor Boris Johnson’s bid to revive the Routemaster, it isn’t a national venture.

Of course, this lack of UK work wasn’t the only reason Priestman Goode set its sights to the east. As an entrepreneurial business it wants to maximise its success, and developing nations like China offer great opportunities. But it was a factor.

Next month the Design Museum stages a retrospective of the legendary Kenneth Grange, one of the biggest influences in UK product design.

Seeing what he achieved with designs like the 125 train and Kenwood Chef mixer range might inspire a new generation of British industrialists to think big in terms of design. Let’s hope so.

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