Government shows design commitment

The hot news this week has to be Tony Blair’s Downing Street design bash and his announcement of a design-led brainstorming programme. Since he became Prime Minister, Blair has shown an interest in design – not least in his backing, against the odds, of the Millennium Dome at Greenwich. But to launch this initiative within his Government’s first 100 days suggests a strong belief in design’s potential to effect the changes Labour clearly means to make.

If ever there was an opportunity for design to show its worth where it counts this is surely it. But I urge the designers involved to really bring their creativity to bear this time, rather than just to push the industry’s cause.

Successive design ministers have been harangued by often-blinkered factions within design, demanding that the government of the day fight design’s corner, usually to no avail. When we finally did get some action – a new-look Design Council and the Business Links – it wasn’t sufficiently focused on design for the industry’s liking. And despite a lot of talking no one has persuaded ministers that proper design management across the Civil Service would benefit everybody.

Not since 1987, when Margaret Thatcher held her second think-tank with designers, has design been taken so seriously. So let’s get a dialogue going for a positive change in attitude to design and set aside our old agendas.

Talking of change, it’s good to see that the Chartered Society of Designers’ Council has finally declared Adrienne LeMan CSD president, some five weeks after Nick Jenkins resigned. LeMan has been openly sympathetic to the review of design representation, even after the CSD executive committee reneged on its commitment to the exercise, thereby prompting Jenkins to step down. We hope, therefore, that she will use her influence as president to talk her colleagues round and that the CSD will join the move for change embodied in the Halifax Initiative.

The gesture would be welcome, if only to show that designers can pull together when the reason is right. But it isn’t necessary for the Halifax Initiative to work. Such is the passion for change from across the industry that the initiative has its own momentum. That passion is driven by need and frustration and CSD endorsement matters little to those keen to move forward to gain influence for design. And what better time to do it? The Government has shown a willingness to listen, and where it leads industry will no doubt follow.

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