What does future hold for Design Council?

Whatever you think of the Design Council, there’s no denying that John Sorrell has turned it around in almost five years as chairman. Since the Sorrell report of 1994, which set out the blueprint for a more effective organisation.

We are indebted to the then design minister, the Tory Baroness Denton, for her nomination of Sorrell for the (unpaid) job, for while the new-look agency was to act as a catalyst between government, industry and design, by bringing in a senior design player, the interests of designers were not lost. While not set up to serve the design industry, the council has proved a supporter of many industry initiatives. Indeed, its chief executive Andrew Summers has become a regular design industry “guy”.

For me, the council’s greatest achievement to date has been its influence on Government, particularly its moves to guide the Civil Service into more effective use of design. With Culture Secretary Chris Smith as a champion, it helped nurse Mike Dempsey’s identity for the Department of Culture Media and Sport through the political wranglings. It has also fielded design management doyenne Jane Priestman to help a handful of Government departments appreciate the value of design. Where the council has fallen short is in its influence on big business. It’s showered small firms and already design-led enterprises with case-studies and honours, respectively. But we’ve yet to see it conquer mainstream manufacturing.

So far so good, but the Design Council is set to change again. Sorrell’s reign ends in December and how the council moves into the new millennium will be down to a new chairman. But who will it be?

It is unfortunate that Peter Mandelson’s political resurgence appears imminent – though hardly surprising, given his talent. He would make a great Design Council chairman, having shown such support for design in his short stint at the Department of Trade and Industry. An obvious choice is James Dyson, though he already chairs the Design Museum. Wally Olins is still fantastically active, though perhaps too forthright to deal softly with recalcitrant Government factions; Deyan Sudjic will be free soon after a successful stint as director of Glasgow 1999; or how about management guru Charles Handy?

Perhaps none of these is right. But who would you like to see leading the Design Council, wielding influence on design’s behalf over Government, clients and media? And what do you think their remit should be? Answers on a postcard, please – or e-mail to lyndark@centaur.co.uk.

Lynda Relph-Knight

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