North America Now – or maybe quite soon

We don’t hear much about design from Government these days, apart from the rabble-rousing set-pieces trotted out by Michael Heseltine on “state” occasions such as last year’s official relaunch of the Design Council. All the more surprising , therefore, to hear of an initiative under the auspices of Department of Trade and Industry minister Richard Needham to push the cause of UK design – an initiative actually worked out with a design body, the Design Business Association (see News Analysis, page 7).

The North American Now campaign is, as its name suggests, geared towards selling Britain abroad – very much Needham’s responsibility at the DTI. Too bad that neither his colleagues nor the DBA were able to give concrete answers to our basic questions about how the initiative will work, how it will be funded and what kind of timescale we’re talking about. It appears to be just talk so far – and not yet communication.

Too bad too that design minister Earl Ferrers isn’t even talking about similar initiatives to bring UK design to British industry. It would be nice, in fact, if he were talking about design at all, breaking the silence he’s maintained since he took up office last July.

Is it enough to let design be handled through a variety of bureaucratic devices such as the Business Links and Consultancy Brokerage Service? We’d like to hear what Ferrers really thinks about design’s role, and if – as he has indicated privately – he thinks it is a good thing, what he’s going to do to cut through the red-tape that’s dogged development over the past few years to get some real action.

Even more encouraging would be some indication that the Government has really taken design on board and integrated it into every facet of the Civil Service. There’s a small start in that both Ferrers and Needham have a partial brief on design at the DTI, the Department of the Environment is concerned with building design, among other things, and then there’s the heritage department. Pity they don’t ever swop notes.

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