If John Lewis leads the way, perhaps others will follow

Media reports that John Lewis Partnership is to appoint two non-executive directors could mark a turning point for design. If the retailer could be persuaded to make one of them a designer, it could provide the top-flight model we need to urge other companies to follow suit. The Design Council has lobbied consistently to get designers on company boards and would be cock-a-hoop over such an outcome.

And why not? John Lewis Partnership is a mould-breaker, not least in its democratic staff dealings and its enlightened architectural commissioning. Its Peter Jones store in London’s Sloane Square pioneered the use of curtain-walling, for example, and its recent revamp was exemplary.

Meanwhile, chairman Sir Stuart Hampson holds design dear. While the company has relied on ‘insiders’ as decision-makers, for many years one of those was in-house design consultant Douglas Cooper, who famously had the chairman’s ear. Under his auspices, it involved the likes of Lloyd Northover, Pentagram, Lewis Moberly and Turner Duckworth on projects for its department stores and Waitrose supermarket chain.

Its more recent appointment of former Pentagram partner John McConnell in an external design advisory role must surely have sown the seeds for a designer to join the board.

It is interesting that this opportunity should arise at a time when Pentagram – whose partners must be prime candidates for non-executive roles – is changing its line up.

The advent of Domenic Lippa and Harry Pearce to its ranks will surely boost the commercial clout of the London office. Reports that the UK team is not on a par as an earner with its US counterparts might be addressed by a portfolio that spans communications and branding, with work that wins creative awards, while bringing in the cash.

But does the inclusion of Lippa Pearce, after Lorenzo Apicella relocated to San Francisco, and Justus Oehler to Berlin, mean the end to changes in London? Indications are there might be more to come, so watch this space.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor – Design Week

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