A recent review of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s current extravaganza, tracing design’s progression throughout the 25-year Cold War between Russia and the US, concluded that design flourishes under capitalism.
The utilitarian Soviet architecture depicted in a show created by Universal Design Studio contrasts sharply with bright Modernist consumer goods of the American Dream. Meanwhile, fuelled by US cash granted under the Marshall Plan, Italy and Germany became hubs for design and manufacturing.
It’s an easy argument. But if you offset the bold plastics and curvy shapes of the period covered by Cold War Modern with the Eastern Bloc’s technological advances, not least in the Space Race, and powerful graphics, it’s not so cut and dried. While classics such as Eero Aarnio’s Globe chair shriek style, the seminal posters of the state-run East have their own legacy.
The public sector has been key in fostering design. Take the wartime posters by the likes of Abram Games, exhorting Brits to grow their own food or join the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
More recently, service design owes much to the Government-funded Design Council working with central and local government on health and education projects. One tangible result was the school desk and chair combo of 2003, created by the Azumis with manufacturer Keen Group.
Governments across the globe are using design to elevate their international standing, particularly in the Far East. And it’s happening here through the Labour Government.
So why, if the will is there and private enterprise is responding well to Government-backed initiatives, hasn’t the public sector got the message yet?
We have just judged the 2008 Benchmark Awards for branding, and though a bevy of great winners will be announced on 2 December, the overall standard of public sector entries was poor. The money is there, as is the precedent. The sector needs champions to show that good design is more effective in every way.