Designers and clients could learn from Europe

Lynda Relph-Knight

If trade shows make stars, then Ross Lovegrove is up there with the best of them. His name was everywhere at last week’s Milan furniture fair, and his stylish Jacobsen-esque stacking chair for manufacturer Fasem even nudged its way on to Italian TV amid coverage of the country’s general election.

Lovegrove joins the ranks of fellow Brits Jasper Morrison and Matthew Hilton on the international design circuit. In demand across the Continent, this bunch are following Philippe Starck and Ron Arad in producing consistently good work for an increasing number of firms. With the exception of London company SCP though, few are working for UK clients.

In most cases, it’s not for want of trying. Nor do ex-pats like Perry King and architect Alan Morris – both living in Italy – willfully avoid UK manufacturers. They’d love to work for clients here.

So why don’t they? Chance would be a fine thing for both, but King gives another reason why it’s hard to break into the UK. He and partner Santiago Miranda work with clients such as Italian lighting firm Sirrah on a royalty basis, sharing the risk – and the profit. But his view that UK clients wouldn’t accept such a deal is borne out by the experiences of others. Here designers tend to have limited involvement in a job and are paid a flat fee, which is often pitifully low given clients’ potential earnings.

We would all like British industry to succeed through good use of design. But how much better if that success is based on a real partnership and understanding between client and designer, rather than on a limited brief yielding a modest design fee and a product that doesn’t reach its full potential.

Bodies such as the Design Council and the Business Links are fighting design’s corner through case studies. But they might achieve more by identifying one great success story based on a strong client/designer relationship – from home or abroad – than a sheaf of lesser tales where design is used ad hoc to achieve a merely passable result.

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