UK design centre needs to stand out from the crowd

Interest is hotting up in the notion of a national design centre, as we await publication of the Cox Review.

Plans for a London venue could be one of the few genuinely new things in Sir George Cox’s Review, which is expected to focus largely on extending existing initiatives to get design into business and boost design skills. By building on existing programmes set up by the Design Council and others, Cox is more likely to achieve his goal quickly than by reinvention.

But what will a national design centre look like? We have an excellent model in Glasgow’s Lighthouse, which promotes design to designers through its Creative Entrepreneurs Club and, like London’s Design Museum, to the public through its events and to schools through an impressive education programme.

Could the new centre take its cue from London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, which also boasts an entrepreneurs club, stimulates debate and provides insight into media, art and design? Or will it follow Amsterdam’s Doors of Perception, set up by British design commentator John Thackara, and focus on social issues and technology? All we know is that it won’t be like the old Design Council in London’s Haymarket, with its shop, café and exhibitions. That was consumer-facing, whereas we can expect the new venue to have a business bent.

Ironically, Thackara – surely a contender to run any London centre – will be based in Newcastle for the next couple of years as director of the Design Council’s first biennial Dott promotion of design in the regions. This role will inevitably involve him in the Gateshead design venue, first mooted in Chancellor Gordon Brown’s Budget speech in March.

But the UK isn’t the only country at it. The opening of Thailand’s national design centre in Bangkok is a timely reminder that we must act fast. With Australia and Korea already there, we must produce something very special to promote UK design. So let’s get on with it.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor

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