Design of every discipline rises to charity challenge

Working for charities used to be a ‘worthy’ way for design groups to generate highly creative projects. By reducing design fees – or waiving them altogether and charging only the costs of a job – consultancies felt they had greater licence to do great work, outside the confines of commercial constraints.

That attitude continues, and with the 2005 awards season kicking off next Tuesday with the Design Week Awards ceremony, we can expect to see a fair smattering of charity projects making it to the final cut, if not on to the podium. Watch this space.

But while charity work has traditionally been the province of graphics and digital specialists whose main job is to raise awareness and so funds, the bigger charitable organisations are now looking further afield, placing design at the heart of their operation.

Take the British Red Cross portfolio (see News page 4). Quite apart from the branding exercise by Interbrand, one of the UK’s top interiors groups, Universal Design Studio, is working alongside branding consultancy The Team on its new headquarters. Like the Salvation Army, whose ‘transparent’ London headquarters building by architect Sheppard Robson features signs and bold graphics by branding consultancy Hat-Trick Design (DW 11 November 2004), it is looking to design in its entirety to position itself as a charity that is both contemporary and accessible.

So charities are no longer the province solely of a few specialist groups such as the old Spencer Landor, now Spencer du Bois, or a sideline for the many good spirited consultancies that have lent a hand in the past. They are becoming a mainstream part of life in design.

We tend to hear less of developments on the product design front. You have to applaud the dedication of product designer David Constantine and his team at Motivation, which is broadening out from its focus on low-cost wheelchairs in deprived areas of the world to address the needs of kids with cerebral palsy in Sri Lanka and Africa through its new Worldmade project. But fewer real projects in the product arena are broadcast since the Design Council’s Millennium Products programme came to an end.

The Design Business Association and Helen Hamlyn Research Centre are pushing the agenda through the DBA Inclusive Design Challenge initiative, the results of which are announced tonight. It crosses design boundaries, but is product-led. But for most sectors of design charity work is becoming a viable proposition.

The benefits to the industry are obvious, particularly in creating a positive public profile for design. But we are all winners here, as design does its best to address social concerns.

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