Design leadership requires a greater level of unity in the design industry

I am afraid some fundamental questions need to be answered before this debate on the needs of the design industry goes much further. Here are some of them:

a) Who are we supposed to be?

b) What is the design community?

Does it also represent engineering and mechanical designers, architects, art and design teachers, corporate design managers, media designers, industry researchers, marketers, inventors, software and system designers? If not, we may just be a tributary of mainstream innovation.

c) What is it we want?

More recognition, influence, status, protection, work and representation?

d) Why do we want it?

For a wider role within society? To improve fee structures? Raise professional standards? To increase the size of the industry? To demonstrate the value of our work? To better control our future and ourselves?

Meanwhile, two changes could be considered now. The first is to disband the current representative groups and incorporate them into a single, representative body. We have at least five representative bodies; the Design Council, the Chartered Society of Designers, British Design & Art Direction, Design Business Association, and now Design Unity.

This single body should have an elected executive with wide representation and a collective ability to debate, persuade, educate, motivate, and engage with the external bodies. These organisations involve legislators, educators, regulators, industrialists, markets, opinion-formers, the media, and the public at large. The executive must unify, protect, and represent its members.

We must engage with those wider social, cultural, economic and technological issues that mark out the fundamental areas of design activity. However, such an initiative will require a unique mix of skills, influence, and management that has yet to be seen within the design industry.

Whether these two moves are achievable will depend upon the anticipated level of protectionism from the representative bodies, the level of apathy from the design fraternity at large, and the willingness of the self-serving few and the self appointed spokespersons that currently undermine the industry.

John Bampton

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