The role of design is set to grow as barriers disappear

There has been a significant shift in the way design operates. Once, it might have been solely about creating icons – kettles, trains, posters, buildings and so on. Now it has a more subtle role to play as an enabler and communicator.

The Designs of the Time initiative in the North East is an impressive showcase of how grassroots ideas can, with design input, reach fruition. The award-winning Urban Farming venture in Middlesbrough is a case in point, with local produce nurtured on unlikely sites for a project culminating in a ‘town meal’. Traditional design was there in the form of landscape advice, graphics and celebrity chefs to teach cooking, but it wasn’t the hero of the piece. The locals and their efforts were, resulting in a change in attitude and a stronger community.

The shift towards ‘service design’, which underpins Dott 07, started with the upsurge in ‘branding’, a word covering anything from packaging to identity. Couple that with the rise in ‘customer experience’ projects, and design assumes a broader role in the client’s perception. It addresses the bigger picture rather than just a detail.

Key to this is the focus on the consumer. Designers have long been ‘the people’s champions’, while ad folk and architects, say, are more inclined to come up with the big idea or a bold statement.

Or so it has tended to be. There are moves, though, to break down the barriers between disciplines. Digital design has been a factor here, but we can expect to see a broader approach when Chris Wise takes over from Mike Dempsey as Master of the Royal Designers next month. Dempsey has built the profile of the Royal Designers, tapping into that fantastic resource to disseminate knowledge. Wise, a distinguished design engineer, plans to work his constituents across disciplines, building on what they share rather than what divides them.

This is great news all round. The whole of design is, after all, far greater than the sum of the parts, as people of the North East have found.

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