Design still needs to prove business case, say experts

The Creative Economy Programme’s relevance to the design industry was assessed last week by a group of designers in London.

The Designers Breakfast event sought industry views on the Creative Britain – New Talents for the New Economy report, published as a framework for the creative industries by an interdepartmental group of Government departments (DW 21 February).

Since the publication of the document, the vital questions remain – how can design make a difference to the economy, and should design consultancies be better placed to promote themselves to businesses which currently do not engage with designers? Those present debated whether a ‘design culture’ can be fostered in the UK by making clients realise the value of ‘design thinking’. An investment culture which makes use of design could only come to the fore if the role of design, and its benefit to business, is made apparent to clients.

‘Businesses need to be shown the power of innovation,’ says Ideo partner Matthew Hunter.

But there seems to be a communication challenge for designers in the UK to persuade companies to want to innovate, and this is the area that the Government should be paying attention to in reports concerning design.

Jon Kingsbury, director of the creative economy innovation programme at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, warns that unless businesses in the creative industry, including design groups, are given the ability to grow, countries such as China will steal the creative lead from the UK. He claims there is ‘a need for more creative business heroes’ like Terence Conran, who can provide case-studies and business models for designers to use as inspiration to realise their own business goals. Hunter claims that ’25 per cent or less of Ideo’s work is generated by the UK’.

The question of precisely what the Government is doing, or should be doing, with regard to creating demand for design and the creative services was another topic of discussion. The Government document includes in its foreword a statement from Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He writes that he wants ‘to help more people discover and develop their talents’, through education, the provision of public funding and setting out a framework for creatives.

However, Ben Terrett, director at The Design Conspiracy, voiced concern that ‘the Government seems not to be practising what it is preaching, I would like to see more design work being generated directly by Government departments and UK politicians’.

Similarly, designers need to take an interest in Government activity and provide feedback – the notion of designers helping the Government to help them.

The term ‘creative industries’ is a broad one which includes the music, gaming and film industries. Jeremy Myerson, Professor of Design Studies at the Royal College of Art and director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre, points out that those working in design need to decide where they fit in.

‘Design has always had a historical problem of not coming under an arts or business banner,’ Myerson says. It has become a cultural phenomenon which is not as easy to define as some other industries, he adds.

Garrick Jones, research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science and lecturer in industrial design and engineering at the RCA, questions whether designers and architects should be seen as ‘creative functionaries’ or ‘functional creatives’. If those working directly with the industry find it hard to categorise, it might explain why the Government’s report is not able to make designers from each specialism feel that they are being supported.

Key report ‘commitments’

• Encouragement of employers and skills providers to set up ground-breaking innovative places of learning
• Creation of a new ‘academic hub’ for the performing arts to provide end-to-end development of creative skills for people aged 14 to 25
• Apprenticeships will be established for up to 5000 people a year by 2013
• The Technology Strategy Board to provide £10m to inspire research and development ideas
• Nesta’s £3m creative innovators growth programme
• The Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills will commission research to better quantify the economic benefits of the creative industries
• Launch of the World Creative Business Forum
• Championing London’s creative festivals

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