It will be some time before we can gauge the outcome of last week’s tragic events in the US. While Americans try to rebuild their lives, governments and companies across the entire world are bidding to assess the cost and social and economic impact of a changing situation.
Design is inevitably caught up in all this. Our thoughts are with those in the business who lost family, friends or colleagues in the attacks, but we look too to those whose businesses are shaken by the fall out. Uncertainty about the future will take its toll.
But design is a resilient business and will bounce back. It has much to offer in the rebuilding process, not just through architecture, but through its trouble-shooting approach to situations and in aiding communication.
News of the Design Council initiative Design for Future Needs, for example, couldn’t be more timely. By securing European Union backing for the project, the council will establish high-level support for the notion that creative thinking can be used in a broader way to help shape scientific and technological developments. Couple this with the growing acceptance of ‘inclusive’ design as a positive force for social good and design’s role in creating ‘sustainable’ products, and you start to see UK designers beginning to play the bigger part in social and political circles that their Far Eastern counterparts have long filled.
If these elements can be brought together to help the US, especially in New York, so much the better.
As for design’s own future, already threatened by the economic downturn before the World Trade Center was hit, there is hope here too, if design groups keep their nerve and look to longer-term strategies.
Speaking at a dinner for design leaders in London last week, former Culture Secretary Chris Smith gave clues as to how design might shape up in what he described as a ‘nervous’ economic situation. Top of his list was the need to protect intellectual property, rights to which too many consultancies give away rather than licensing them to clients.
Smith also saw a need to foster the idea of creativity in schools rather than squeeze it out as we tend to currently. He urged the Government to be more supportive of design groups’ bids for overseas work and called for easier access to finance for the development of creative businesses.
None of these remedies can take away the pain of the moment, but they can help to build a better future for design and, through it, improve quality of life. As an industry we should act where we can and lobby governments and others whose intervention can help us to achieve our goals.