A unified voice would be the most effective

You’d be forgiven for thinking of this as Design in Government Week, given the number of events that have borne the stamp of 10 Downing Street. We’ve had the Powerhouse launch and the second raft of Millennium Products, not to mention the activities related to Design in Education Week (the week’s official “branding”).

But for design the biggest news is the Design Council’s breakthrough in influencing design management practice in the civil service. Tucked away in the Creative Britain report (see News, page 3) is the revelation that the council has been working behind the scenes to help Government departments make the most effective use of the estimated 40bn a year they spend on design.

If it succeeds in changing the approach to design procurement, the council will achieve what successive elected heads of design’s professional bodies have failed to do. It should also silence industry sceptics who query what the council does for design.

The council is hoping its work with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport will set the example for other public sector bodies and private business. According to council director Martin Brown, who last month assumed responsibility for Government dealings, the best way to change practice is to encourage peers to swap notes. Hence the council will raise the debate among top civil servants in a seminar on Government procurement in July.

It probably won’t end there. These things take an age, as experienced design managers will tell you. Even when an organisation has taken design on board and put in place a design management system, it doesn’t mean it understands how design can improve aspects of its business.

The council had a break and took it. The DCMS courted its advice when looking to commission an identity, and the council’s influence stems from the process that got CDT Design the job. But the council in turn needs support from the design industry if it is to maximise that influence and spread the word across the public sector.

How can we help? According to Brown, the best thing the design industry can do is speak with a unified voice to the Government to make dialogue easier. He points out that industries such as pharmaceuticals that appear to have the ear of the Government have done exactly that.

We know the Halifax Initiative is slowly working towards closer collaboration between design bodies. But let’s not forget that at the heart of the exercise was the single voice idea. It’s worth setting aside the egos to achieve that – and speeding up the process.

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