Stop design becoming a cliché – change what it means

I don’t always agree with everything that Stephen Bayley says, but much of his article in the CSD March/ April edition could well have been written by me – if only I were so eloquent.

He argues that, ‘Design is now a term as debased as “deluxe”, “executive” or “Have a nice day”‘.

Once I described to a well- respected design journalist that, for me, design was about taking a product from concept to production. However, when describing the process, I could tell that we were on different planets. I was on Zog as far as he was concerned. I knew at that moment that design was dead.

Since then I have tried to avoid using the word design to describe my activities.

Bayley cites the Audi TT as a travesty of design because its style results in death. This brings to mind a more recent event when the former head of design of Virgin Trains announced that his selection criteria for choosing a design group for the new high-speed tilting trains was that it should have no knowledge of train design. I had to suffer the indignity of receiving a verbal drubbing by the chosen designer, Paul Priestman, for offering to assist his team achieve functionality.

Apparently, I was out of order for daring to suggest that his company might need help in creating products for a multimillion pound industry that is responsible for the lives of thousands of people.

Back to Bayley: ‘If there is such as thing as design it is as follows; it is scientific and can be quantified. Efficiency. economy, safety, durability. These are all things that can be easily measured’.

Of course, being measured is best avoided. An attempt last year to get the industrial design community together as a body resulted in a vote for something akin to a trade association. The vote was unanimous – except for one. I said that design should be accountable, should be measurable and, to achieve true professional status, we should form a professional body with strict entry regulations. Still sentenced to Zog, I’m afraid.

Let’s bring back the word design – it is after all the right word. But lets define it in such a way as to give it respect. Then I might be able to use it again, which would make my life easier!

If anyone has any doubt about my motives for such an attitude, I think it is the only way that we will avoid the doomsday scenario as described by Bayley: ‘If this is design, you can hear Corporate Britain muttering, I think I can do without it’.

Michael Rodber


Jones Garrard

Latest articles