Home is where the art is for in-house designers

Thursday evening must rank as one of the highlights in Andrew Ritchie’s career. The creator of the Brompton folding bicycle not only won the Prince Philip Designers Prize, he was the 50th designer to do so and was duly honoured by the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace (16 October, www.designweek.co.uk)

The duke’s personal commitment to design is laudable. He has been quiet, but consistent about the honour over the years, chairing the judging and having a strong say in the proceedings. Ritchie is one of many industrial designers to have taken the prize, but other disciplines have played a part and the prestigious shortlists are pretty well balanced.

In bestowing the prize on Ritchie, the duke reiterated that ‘the object of the exercise is to promote the idea of design’, rather than fete a particular individual, though Ritchie and his forebears deserve the accolade.

It is poignant that Ritchie works in-house at the London bicycle manufacturer. It was experience of in-house design at car company Austin that prompted Prince Philip to set up the prize scheme in 1959, though his suggestion that Austin bring in an external consultant, the great Italian group Pininfarina, arguably marked its turning point.

In-house design is perceived as the poor relation of consultancy, despite the reputations of Jonathan Ive at Apple and others. Yet 38 per cent of product designers are employed in-house in the UK. Their roles vary hugely – as the examples we highlight this week show – but their contribution is significant, particularly in newer industries such as mobile phones and home electronics, with the likes of LG Electronics, Nokia and Samsung all boasting a strong London presence.

We pay homage this week, therefore, not only to the exemplary dedication of Ritchie at Brompton Bikes, but to all who work in-house. It’s rarely easy and often fraught with internal battles against technical or marketing factions, but the outcome can be awesome.

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