Leaders must capitalise on the popularity of design

The failure of the representative bodies for the design industry to unite under one umbrella is a sad reflection on the motivations of those in the profession.

It’s sad because so many of those charismatic characters in the industry who might have been at the forefront of such a movement have been disenchanted by the ineptitude of the Chartered Society of Designers and have instead chosen to pursue their own preoccupations of stock-market flotations or selling out to the highest bidder.

Those that thankfully have maintained their independent professional status have turned aside and chosen to concentrate on the jobs in hand, and who can blame them?

This heads-down attitude has not always prevailed. In the late 1960s the CSD, which was then known as the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers, was the focus for those in the forefront of the profession.

Design discussions of any gravitas took place within the society and Designer magazine was one of the few sources of information for the profession.

For most of us, the CSD plot was lost so long ago that any effort expended in trying to discover where things went wrong would be unproductive. But it is worth debating whether efforts to unite the voices of the profession are likely to be worthwhile.

Why not let the status quo remain? Would the sum of any combined organisation be more than the individual parts?

Perhaps I could make a contribution on behalf of the design management side of the industry (a side totally unrepresented by any of the existing professional bodies), and also from one who has been personally saddened that the efforts of those such as Jonathan Sands have met with so little success since the Halifax initiative.

Users of design like ourselves would be much better served by a profession with a united voice, one having a recognised structure of continued professional training, a united view on design education and sufficient resources to fund in-service bursaries. As clients of the design industry, who are we to judge whether our funds should best support the CSD, British Design & Art Direction, the Design Business Association or the Royal Society of Arts?

Which organisation should we approach for effective guidance on matters of copyright, forms of contract, recommendations on designers or benchmarking issues, Which organisation best understands the needs of in-house design teams?

Design managers have, with some justice, felt ill-served by the design industry’s lack of professional focus, and their in-house designers equally frustrated by organisations whose chief preoccupation is clearly with those in private practice.

There cannot have been a better time for the design world to get its act together. We live in a society which is at long last beginning to value the contribution of the designer. Industry is also becoming aware of the need to manage the design resource and this management will increasingly need professional support.

Can we look to 2001 for the vested interests of the individual organisations to be set aside in the interests of real design unity?

Could this be another opportunity for John Sorrell to ride in on his white charger? I for one would enlist as a foot soldier for the cause.

Douglas Cooper

Design consultant

The John Lewis Partnership


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