Call for a creative coup

Janice Kirkpatrick maps out her plan for design supremacy in the next millenium, which includes sending out dynamic and youthful creative guerillas to the front lines.

It didn’t matter what happened at the last election, all that mattered was that something happened, anything.

Right now there’s a lot of dynamic shifting going down: the vast intercontinental plates of organisations like the Design Business Association, Chartered Society of Designers, the Design Council and the ICA are lumbering over one another, trying to find one brain to define what Britain is, and one strategic voice explaining how we’ll win the interplanetary war over milliennium celebrations.

The message will be simple: the leaders must back the artists’ rifles. Blighty’s reputation is at stake, creative troops must pass muster and bravely soldier forward in our millennium offensive.

But where are the hearts, the heads, the courage? Bureaucracies don’t have hearts, many have empty heads. Hearts and subscriptions are genarally incompatible. The guerillas who wage creative war appear only in the margins of style magazines or underground clubs. They are Britain’s creative lifeblood and they don’t subscribe to Design or the CSD.

Vogue round-table lunching is no way to plot a cunning celebration of our uniquely perverse British culture. We’d be better off synchronising watches and getting dirty in the suburbs and regions. We should find the sharp end of our trade; the creators who take risks because they’ve nothing to lose.

The Government demands of the design profession, “Take me to your leader”. But who are our leaders and do they have brains? I think it’s unrealistic for the vast creative legions to speak with one voice.

The inevitable distillation of mixed messages is damned to be weak like a report or conference summing-up, nicely packaged and official-looking, but impotent.

Design isn’t understood because it is complex. Attempts to explain creativity simply create even more confusion. Add rampant technological change to a simplistic explanation and we appear to be an army out of control. After all, the real army, the navy and airforce have different heads and the Government listens to their repeated requests for dangerous and expensive toys.

Either we change our tack and become trickier (unlikely, as we march to different tunes) or we decide we don’t need Government backing and should help support guerilla designers make clever and incisive low-budget celebrations throughout the land.

Designers are accustomed to courageous acts although it more often than not amounts to being mildly brave over sustained periods of time. The millennium battle for Britain is pressing heavily upon us now that successive governments have stopped re-arranging the furniture. They want swift results not trench warfare.

We need strong and brave interpretations of our New Britain. That we can provide the world with a seamless uniform of corporate clothes goes without saying.

What we must be courageous enough to do is unearth and present a youthful and dynamic vision of our culturally rich fortress UK. For once, we should be more stealthy, SAS, hi-tech-black-polo-neck than Busby, tartan and brass buttons, we should keep mum about our heritage and trust our guerilla guides to lead us into a daring future.

The millennium is just one other pacing device. In one giant act of consensus, we agree to use this most man-made of festivals as a vehicle to speed up the rate of civilising change, to startle ourselves awake and progress at a quickened pace.

Strange new things are happening – the ICA is working with designers and a chink of darkness appears amid the ack-ack of flack. This could be a truly excellent opportunity for design to transcend the mundanity of the forced-march of consultancy and move instead into an unfettered invasion of everyday life.

We should adopt camouflage techniques, appearing as artists or accountants or scientists, when entering the new territory of the future. As designers we can be all things to all men, we can be laser sharp techno-cultural pioneers and also hump centuries of heritage baggage on cynical marches.

The millennium reminds us of the temporal beat we march to. We need to slow down not turn the clock back. We have an opportunity to project an accurate picture of Britain, more Trainspotting than Dam Busters.

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