Overseas rivals may hinder the expansion of UK design

Much has been said about the Government’s bid to achieve world economic domination, embracing the creative industries as an important weapon in the fight.

It is intent on boosting the competitive edge of UK business through design – a task firmly on the shoulders of the Design Council but also of interest to the Institute of Directors, among others. But it also sees design as an invaluable ‘intellectual’ export.

This second aspect is not proving easy. Design groups with expansionist plans are learning that the world – particularly the emerging world that has sparked Government interest – isn’t waiting for UK design crusaders to march its way.

Countries such as Russia – with its high-profile entrepreneurs and China – with its legendary manufacturing capability – could be short-stay destinations for UK groups. Multinational clients have been the ticket to these markets, where local design of any quality remains limited – Moscow branding group Mildberry, with its European allies, is one of few exceptions. But this position is set to change – witness the number of Chinese design students graduating from UK universities and the ‘two-tiered’ growth in the global marketing services industry, as noted by Sir Martin Sorrell.

In the 1990s, the Government identified Brazil as a potentially rich seam for UK consultancies to tap. The British Council despatched a fact-finding team, but they returned red-faced to report that there were design groups there already. Among those was Tátil, which is now a force in South America.

A UK designer with Brazilian clients maintains there isn’t anyone of real merit locally – not in his field anyway. But while exceptional, Tátil is not the only Brazilian branding team of talent.

Like Moscow’s Mildberry, several are hoping to expand into Europe, having commanded the local scene for multinational clients for years. So perhaps UK groups ought to strengthen their own fences before setting their sights elsewhere.

Lynda Relph-Knight – editor, Design Week

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