News that Penny Egan is to step down as executive director of the Royal Society of Arts in July adds a new dimension to top-level changes in the industry (see News, page 3). Couple her retirement with the sudden departure of Alice Rawsthorn from the Design Museum and Richard Eisermann’s premature exit as director of design and innovation at the Design Council (DW 16 February), and you see a major opportunity for change in design.
Though a couple have had sticky moments, there was nothing intrinsically wrong with how the three have done their jobs. But the vacancies they create – or, in Eisermann’s case, the opportunity to rethink the way the Design Council integrates design – could have a significant, positive impact on the future of the industry.
Design isn’t the sole concern of the RSA – it covers so many things – but it has run the highly prestigious Student Design Awards and bestows the CSD Medal on a designer annually – Apple Computer wunderkind Jonathan Ive has won both in his time. And it is home to the Royal Designers, a cross-disciplinary body of creatives, whose talents are about to be harnessed by their new Master, Mike Dempsey, to raise the standard of debate on convergence, among other things.
Perhaps more prophetically, the RSA has instigated initiatives that put design into a broader context. Long before Design Council director Hilary Cottam and others were looking to ‘design’ services and organisations, it was involved in the Tomorrow’s Company initiative and with food standards in schools – ventures that might now be claimed as the province of designers.
Rawsthorn and Eisermann have pushed the boundaries in defining design, but the RSA has the cards in its hand to develop that thinking. With the three posts now under discussion, the heads of the various bodies should swap notes, to get a coherent strategy in which each plays a key part. All three are arguably on the fringe of design business, but that is often from whence the best ideas for change come.
Lynda Relph-Knight, editor