We can expect to hear the phrase ‘success doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by design’ quite a bit this autumn. It is the mantra of Chancellor Gordon Brown, who used it at the opening bash of the London Design Festival on Monday. Brown has already demonstrated that these are not the empty words of a politician, in commissioning the Cox Review to look at ways in which design can best be harnessed by UK businesses, to help them compete – and win – in the global economy.
It is not, of course, the first time that political leaders have espoused design. Indeed, Prime Minister Tony Blair put it centre stage in his promotion of Cool Britannia when he took up office in the late 1990s. But it is a major breakthrough for a department so central to Government operations as the Treasury to back it so overtly, and, with Brown tipped to succeed Blair as Labour leader in due course, it promises to be more than a passing phase.
We can assume that Brown’s sentiments are provoked by world events, notably the rapid rise of China as a manufacturing force. With China, India and the new world generally in the ascendancy, Western nations are having to think again about what Brown calls ‘the new economy’. This thinking tends to focus initially on 3D design – product, automotive, fashion and the like – where goods are designed here and manufactured more cheaply abroad. But there is still a need to create brands, to build retail environments in which they are sold and to communicate their benefits to customers across the world. These are skills at which the UK excels, with design at the centre of the most effective examples.
We should take heart, therefore, as we celebrate the best design from the UK and beyond over the next few days. The message is finally being heeded in high political office, with the Cox Review due in early November. We must do what we can to make sure it filters down from there, into industries at home and abroad.