Taskforce criticised as unfocused after delays

The Government’s much-trumpeted commitment to design is in danger of ringing hollow if its Creative Industries taskforce fails to find a clear focus, claim design industry bodies.

The Government has already been heavily criticised on its handling of the Millennium Exhibition at Greenwich. And many product designers were outraged when it emerged they would not be credited automatically in the Government’s Millennium Products initiative (DW 19 December 1997).

Now the Creative Industries taskforce, set up to define, quantify and develop the creative sector, is in danger of losing credibility in its capacity as analyst for the design sector.

Design is one of the 11 creative industries being examined, and is being coordinated by media and telecommunications group Spectrum Strategy Consultants (DW 16 January). “We were going to report to Culture Secretary [Chris Smith] on 18 February, but have put it back by about six weeks,” says Spectrum managing director Janice Hughes. She volunteered her group to help with the project.

Spectrum has also dropped parts of its original remit. This was to gather statistics on the value of design to the economy, its export value, its employment levels, the longer term prospects for the industry, and tighter definitions. “We are wrestling with what design means and haven’t yet come up with any industry figures as yet,” says Spectrum associate Harry Hobson, who is co-ordinating the project.

The design industry has welcomed the taskforce and Spectrum’s contribution. But many feel the task is too ambitious and not adequately resourced. Hobson admits he has little experience of the design industry.

Design Business Association chief executive Ian Rowland-Hill says: “Anybody conducting such a project has a problem if they do not work in the design industry. No one person has an all-encompassing view, but it really needs to be run by someone with a good overview, who can pull all the survey’s findings together.”

Circus associate Simon Mottram adds: “On the one hand the Government has a very sophisticated understanding of design, but on the other it has set up a taskforce which doesn’t seem very sure of itself and doesn’t have adequate resources.”

Mottram has just joined Circus from his position as director of strategy and identity at Interbrand Newell and Sorrell.

“If all the relevant bodies are not consulted the Government is in danger of losing credibility over its commitment to design,” says Chartered Society of Designers president Adrianne Leman. Spectrum has not yet approached the DBA or the CSD.

A question mark also hangs over parts of the taskforce’s remit. “It is incredibly hard to quantify the value of design. Emotional and psychological factors have a long-term effect on a brand and design cannot be separated from the rest of the marketing mix,” says Mottram.

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