Design for Civil Service needs consistency

It’s a given that we should ask design industry folk what should head the new Government’s agenda for design.

It’s a given that we should ask design industry folk what, in their view, should head the new Government’s agenda for design. The ideas we all mouth among ourselves need to be repeated publicly over and over again for them to have an impact – if not on the politicians, then on those bodies deemed to represent design which have some influence with Government – and the more good ideas we as an industry can present, the more likely we are to be taken seriously.

Central to all thinking must be for Government – whatever its political flavour – to have a consistent policy on design buying across the Civil Service. Figures vary as to how much the Civil Service spends on design each year, but suffice it to say it amounts to megabucks. To see it spent more effectively than at present not only helps the design cause, but can save money for taxpayers in the long run – ie, for all of us.

Inroads have been made into promoting good practice under Labour, largely under the auspices of the Design Council with the help of design management doyenne Jane Priestman and others. A handful of Government departments have taken part in the exercise, though it is proving to be a long haul.

There has been much interest in design from Government. There have been annual reports designed by Johnson Banks; we have seen the successful completion by Mike Dempsey of CDT Design of the identity for the Department of Culture Media and Sport, with active support against parliamentary critics from Culture Secretary Chris Smith; and there has been a lot of work for groups such as The Team that specialise in Government projects.

But the situation hasn’t always been positive. There has, for example, been little cohesion between the projects mentioned above, leading to a proliferation of logos and communication that lacks clarity – a point made recently by Priestman (Letters, DW 26 April).

Instances such as the Central Office of Information debacle involved design groups paying to enter COI pitches. This new interpretation on the idea of a paid pitch raised, momentarily, the hackles of Design Business Association chief executive Ian Rowland-Hill and incensed others in the business, but it appears now to have quietly fallen into oblivion. We assume the practice continues.

Despite considerable effort, there is still much to be achieved in Civil Service design management – and this is only one of the design initiatives Government might usefully foster. What else would you put on the agenda for the political party leaders as they step up the fight for a place at 10 Downing Street?

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