Allowing in ‘outsiders’ could bolster the design industry

It is not surprising to find Sir George Cox named as one of two design ‘champions’ by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport as part of its Creative Economy Programme.

In his previous life, as director-general of the Institute of Directors, the Design Council chairman showed a firm belief in design’s potential to enhance business. The Cox Review, which he delivered to its commissioner, Chancellor Gordon Brown, late last year, reinforces this stance, spelling out ways in which design can best serve business, and how education and the needs of industry might be better integrated to give the UK a competitive edge.

The naming of Cox as a champion helps to define the DCMS’s role in the Treasury-led push by Government to boost design’s standing in the economy and to dovetail the efforts of the two departments. As James Purnell, minister for the Creative Industries and Tourism, puts it, the Cox Review projects a vision for the future, based on the view that Britain has world-class creative industries. The DCMS seeks to ensure that view remains valid, by bolstering education and skills within those industries, to meet the expectations that implementation of Cox’s vision will throw up.

For design, this role is key – recent surveys by the Design Business Association and others have shown that few consultancies are running to full commercial efficiency. Warnings, from the likes of accountant Mandy Merron of Willott Kingston Smith that design groups must avoid raising salaries as work picks up after a severe downturn, at a time when good middleweight creative staff are notoriously hard to come by, add to this picture.

Much of what Cox and the DCMS are planning is long term, given the emphasis on education. But, this week, we have highlighted one small way in which consultancies can build their expertise now, by bringing in ‘outsiders’ to design. It’s a question of attitude and projecting personality, which will surely help to win through. Cox, after all, is not a designer.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor

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