Regarding Hilary Cottam’s Designer of the Year award, none of the coverage has made a compelling argument to justify this as a ‘design’ award. There has been a lot of ‘design management’ speak in an attempt to support the credibility of the recipient. Phrases like ‘Cottam isn’t a designer in the purist sense… an articulate protagonist of design as a strategic tool’ or, ‘She is a brilliant spokesperson… an outstanding advocate of design’. The fact is, Cottam is not a designer. Just as David Puttnam would never profess to be a film director. But he clearly was the major creative catalyst behind Alan Parker, Ridley Scott, Hugh Hudson and Roland JoffÃ© in the pursuit of their directorial dreams.
It’s another case of the word ‘designer’ being unwisely and confusingly attached, devaluing its potency. Surprisingly, the Design Museum of all bodies has brought about this confusion.
The Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry, together with the Royal Society of Arts tackled this very issue of honouring the non-designer in 1954 by setting up the RSA Bicentenary Medal. This is awarded ‘to a person who, in a manner other than as an industrial designer, has exerted exceptional influence in promoting art and design in British industry’.
The most recent recipient was Deyan Sudjic, who received the medal for his outstanding contribution to architectural and design journalism. This would have been a far more sympathetic context for the talents of Cottam and a more honest refection of her contribution.
Designers may do a lot of thinking and talking. But when all that stops they actually get down to the practicalities of doing it. And it is in the very ‘doing’ that makes them ‘designers’. It is this that singles them out from the crowd and this is something that should be cherished.
Mike Dempsey RDI, Master Elect of The Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry, London WC2N