Never a better time to help design reach board level

The saga of Samsung Design Europe is interesting, throwing up a number of things of which the UK design community can be proud.

It goes without saying that the small London team involves top talents, most of whom are from the UK, but the great thing is that the Korean home electronics giant has recognised the strength of British design. Like Japanese car manufacturer Nissan, which followed rival Ford in setting up a London design centre in January, it believes the UK capital is the place to be in Europe if you want to attract the best talent – in Nissan’s case, proximity to the Royal College of Art’s vehicle design course was also a factor.

This commitment by global manufacturers means more than claims by ‘interested’ parties such as London First that London remains the capital of cool. It is on such examples that we hope the organisers of next month’s London Design Festival will build their case for the World Creative Forum to become an international focus for ideas-swapping and inspiration.

Samsung’s policy is also a reminder to industry that design can play a key part, not just in churning out the goods, but in shaping the future of products and services. Not much of SDE’s work has hit the high street yet – and much of it probably won’t. Like Dutch electronics group Philips, it has a large team of designers asking ‘what if?’ and exploring social issues – a more rounded approach than the old technically driven R&D departments and a useful model for UK industry.

You could argue that UK companies are more likely to bring in consultancies for forecasting. Groups like Seymour Powell and Ideo are renowned for looking beyond the widgets, offering forecasting services too, and they are not the only ones. But surely the ideal is to have creative strengths on both sides of the fence, with great in-house teams working alongside design consultancies.

The good thing with this arrangement is that it gives everyone the chance to shine. They bring their best, often complementary skills to the table and everybody learns. More importantly, it takes design up to board level as a source of ideas and new directions.

So how do we get more clients to view design in this way? A useful start would be to get more designers appointed as non-executive directors – an initiative aired at a recent Design Council brainstorming session. It would increase mutual understanding and help to boost the confidence not just of clients about design, but of designers about themselves.

There are surely other ways to encourage industry to place design at the heart of business. Please e-mail your suggestions to me on lyndark@centaur.co.uk.

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