The future of British design is in the industry’s hands

So, Europe is in disarray. With the French having delivered a resounding ‘non’ to the proposed European constitution and the Netherlands expected to follow suit as Design Week went to press, Continental nations are asserting their own identities over that of a unified Europe. Political heads will roll and the media will continue to have a field day.

It poses an interesting dilemma for the UK. By throwing European concerns to the fore, it makes us question our position in the world, particularly given our political links with the US.

In design, there are huge differences between the way we in Britain do business, and even define our terms, and the rest of Europe.

Take branding. While UK consultancies happily talk of ‘brand experience’, expressed through retail, visitors centres and the like, their Continental counterparts still focus on traditional elements of branding such as packaging and corporate identity. This, at least, is what came across at the seminar held in Brussels last week by the Pan European Branding Design Association. And perhaps it is this more rounded approach that is bringing UK groups work in newer areas of Europe, such as Russia and other former Iron Curtain countries.

But Britain – and British design – is undergoing its own identity crisis, quite apart from the European scenario. A designer who manufacturers his designs pointed out last week that it is no longer an advantage to make things in the UK. With the emergence of China in particular as one of the cheap manufacturing bases, goods bearing a ‘made in Britain’ tag are deemed expensive and of no better quality than their Far Eastern equivalents. There may still be some kudos in British manufacture for luxury items such as hand-made shoes, particularly in the US market, but it is unlikely to last.

UK design, however, remains a world-beater in many areas, partly because our design education is still enviable. But how do we ensure this continues? We welcome your views.

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