The Chinese say we’re in the year of the rat, and will be until the industrious ox takes up the load on 7 February. But for design, 1996 will go down as the year of the fish, when British Gas launched its Goldfish brand and a row broke out over the alleged similarity between its identity by Wolff Olins and that created by Michael Wolff for Addison some years ago.
Due to go to court next month, the case has caught the imagination of the design industry like no other tale of the past 12 months. There’s been the inevitable side-taking and censure, but designers have seen the funny side and the debacle has prompted many a visual joke.
Would that more incidents had proved as stimulating, and, with fortunes faring better in the industry, my greatest wish for 1997 is to see humour returning to design. So while Janice Kirkpatrick calls for a literary Christmas (Private View, page 10), I’d put A Smile in the Mind, that witty book by Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart, at the top of everyone’s holiday reading list to remind us what humour, cleverness and passion can do for design.
My second wish is that we work a bit harder to get to grips with our Continental counterparts. We leave 1996 with a glimpse of the euro banknote. The onset of Christmas will no doubt defuse the debate about its indifferent design, but its launch gives us a good excuse to keep a keen eye on Europe next year. We’re kidding ourselves if we view the Continent only as a potential market for UK design, conveniently forgetting we’re not the only ones with creative talent to spare.
The idea of a single currency leads neatly to my third wish – for designers to unite under one banner. Yes, it’s the single voice thing again, but why not, even if it means scrapping the Chartered Society of Designers – writing off its debts and royal charter – and the Design Business
Association and starting again. If it strengthens the design message, it’s worth a thought, particularly with a General Election in the offing.
Have a great Christmas and a resolute new year.