British design must be valued globally

You have scant praise for those with the job of bringing British design to the attention of foreign markets (DW 17 March) but you miss a significant issue. The preoccupation with export promotion tends to ignore the enormous potential of design to transform people’s lives.

Design is at the heart of economic regeneration and there is now a truly global context for design activity.

The growing recognition of British skills in design education, design management and process engineering right the way across the world is tangible. These skills currently underpin a number of major international projects, on a spectrum ranging from the development of knowledge-based engineering virtual reality to simple and effective shelter strategies for crisis zones.

Your focus on “selling Britain abroad” detracts from these broader contributions that British designers may have to offer.

Using design to change people’s perceptions is surely going to have a greater – and more lasting – impact. A broad-based and pragmatic approach to the promotion of design abroad has attractions. It is after all what we prize as a British capacity – the ability to innovate, to be creative and to seize openings wherever those openings may be.

To win success in a global context British design must be positioned not only as an export opportunity but also as a resource for both change and transformation. Design has at least as important a contribution to make in the developing economies of the world as it has to make in the developed economies.

I have lost the reference but remember reading that someone once described design as “making values visible”. If Britain has a genuine long-term contribution to make in the global design arena (and it certainly does) there must be a forum to champion and sustain the partnerships that exemplify the value of a skilled and democratic society which others associate with Britain. Once design hits this agenda it will really have influence.

Malcolm Reading, Design Director, The British Council, London SW1

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