CBI could prove to be an unlikely design ally

Designers were up in arms last year at the audacious free pitches set up by two Scottish local authorities seeking new identities. Even if a schoolchild, eligible as any to enter Fife Council’s contest, was able to produce a logo of any visual value, identity is more than a marque, designers agreed.

A Mac-literate 11-year-old might well produce a better emblem than the mediocre images created by so many design professionals. But identity has deeper, cultural roots, and a complex roll-out programme.

Inevitably, designers did not stand solidly against Fife and Edinburgh’s free-pitches and a few featured on the shortlists. This shows lack of confidence within design, but the situation highlights a broader concern – the ineptitude of the public sector to buy anything, including design, at a realistic price and through an efficient system.

The Department for Education and Employment’s spate of free pitches shows the Government is as bad as the rest, yet it is one of the biggest buyers of goods and services. It’s hard to put a figure on it, but the Civil Service is known to spend a huge amount on design yet has no coherent design management policy. The upshot is bad use of design, but more importantly the squandering of public funds on inadequate purchasing systems.

The issue has been raised before, not least by Jeremy Rewse-Davies when he was Chartered Society of Designers president, but the design establishment has proved to have little clout with Government. Now though there is hope of change, with Michael Heseltine reportedly keen to improve Government purchasing and a new champion for the cause in the Confederation of British Industry.

CBI associate director Barbara Walker has persuaded her bosses that the public sector could do with private sector help to sort out its purchasing policies. The benefit for the CBI? Like designers, its members suffer the ills of existing poor practices, she says.

Walker is not concerned specifically with design, but her work at the CBI can only help creative businesses.

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