New DBA chairman has a tough job ahead of him

As new chairman of the Design Business Association (DW 19 July), two of Paul Priestman’s largest hurdles are likely to be apathy and ignorance – not his own you understand, Priestman is a British Bulldog in every sense. If he can only bring some of the success he has achieved with his group the DBA will benefit enormously. But his will not be an easy job.

When you listen to the views of designers across all creative disciplines about the various design organisations, there is an undercurrent of apathy and ignorance, and confusion about the roles of each organisation.

Many find themselves members of seven or so organisations, all with different, yet strangely similar, activities and attributes.

There is some logic to the premise that the Chartered Society of Designers represents the individual designer, the Design Council works with Government and industry and the DBA embraces design companies – the business-to-business world. The confusion persists because none of these three can represent their particular area without encroaching on another. For example, we can applaud the promotional zeal of the DBA through its summer party, Meltdown, but we might question whether it should be doing it at all?

If it’s aimed at individual designers, perhaps it should be a CSD activity? Then the DBA can put all that energy into promoting itself and increasing awareness of its activities within industry; or is that the Design Council’s role? Oh dear.

Maybe the key is not what to do with the DBA in isolation, but what to do with them all as a collective. For example, the CSD began to die when it was denied the facility to provide chartered status to individual designers. A plumber requires more qualifications to work than a designer and until that changes there will be too many people calling themselves designers, doing (bad) work for free and damaging the reputation of the whole profession.

Is the CSD’s lack of power the problem? If so, why not disband it and re-establish an organisation geared to achieving individual chartered status – one which satisfies the criteria of the body granting the power. Perhaps it could be the DBA, or a branch of it.

If it was difficult to call yourself a designer and undertake design work without chartered status, suddenly the CSD would have a role and an income – and importantly a representative membership – enabling it to concentrate on the individual and differentiating it from the ‘corporate’ activities of the DBA. The boundaries will become much clearer, with the DBA, whether as a combined organisation or simply associated with the ‘new CSD’, focusing entirely on commercial business-to-business issues.

Until there is a fundamental shake up, much of the design community will be confused and disenchanted with one design body or another. So, there you are Priestman, easy. Off you go, mate – and good luck.

Peter Tennent

Partner, Factory Design

factorydesign@pop3.demon.co.uk

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