British inventiveness must continue to shine through

Congratulations to the winners of the International Design Effectiveness Awards, especially Grand Prix winner Tangerine for the British Airways Club World ‘bed’ (see News Analysis, page 9).

Congratulations to the winners of the International Design Effectiveness Awards, especially Grand Prix winner Tangerine for the British Airways Club World ‘bed’. It is not easy to prove design’s commercial effectiveness or to persuade a client to take part in the Design Business Association’s prize scheme, given the effort involved in entering.

Over their 12-year life, the DBA awards have become one of the most important highlights in the design calendar. The DBA has worked hard to establish not just the awards, but the principle of measuring the effectiveness of design and its importance to the bottom line. Clients have warmed to the idea of proving the commercial viability of expenditure on design and measurement systems have been devised.

The only thing missing from the awards to date has been an insistence on winning projects involving great design as well as those that can be shown to make or save money. While there have been tremendous exceptions, much of the work successful in these awards could not compete in a contest based on sheer design quality. But with award-winning designer Paul Priestman now chairman of the DBA, we might hope to see a shift in policy here that brings design excellence and cost-effectiveness together.

Commercial effectiveness is, though, only one aspect of design. UK designers are known for their inventiveness, which isn’t only manifested in commercially viable work. Research and development doesn’t always show an immediate return on the balance sheet. Hence few clients are brave enough these days to take it on board. Yet it is often experimentation that leads to the greatest social and economic change.

It was good, therefore, to see the Design Council taking its eclectic show Great Expectations to New York last week as part of the UKwithNY initiative. The selection of UK-generated designs chosen by curator Restructure range from obvious commercial goers such a Dyson DC06 vacuum cleaner to experimental projects such as Gorix electro-conductive textiles.

Many of the exhibits show amazing potential, but might be pushed to score in terms of immediate commercial performance. They exist because someone took a risk that might not pay off.

The Design Council is playing an important role in fostering this type of thinking through initiatives such as Great Expectations, its support of ‘inclusive’ design projects and its fledgling Design for Future Needs scheme (DW 20 September). As long as it keeps widening its net, it can do much to bring out the very best of UK design and with it do a great service for global business.

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