Time to stop the rot of design body infighting

As Hamlet’s friend Marcellus might say, something is rotten in London’s Farringdon. The departure of Chartered Society of Designers acting director Maria Luniw after only six months in the job suggests that all is still not well in an industry body dogged by financial and political problems.

A conspiracy of silence among CSD officials means we have few details of Luniw’s departure. But sources close to the CSD indicate she was sacked.

Luniw had held responsible posts at the BBC before coming into design – another hotbed of political activity – so there is no reason to believe she wasn’t up to the CSD job. Unlike her counterparts at the Design Business Association and British Design and Art Direction, Ian Rowland-Hill and David Kester, she hadn’t yet built a profile within the industry or been active in cross-body committees. But sources suggest she was discouraged from doing so by the same CSD executive whose belligerence over the Halifax Initiative led to the resignation of former CSD president Nick Jenkins (DW 13 June 1997).

It is a tragedy all round, but particularly so for the design community. Whatever the ins and outs of the Luniw case, internal squabbling among people elected by CSD members to represent their interests must limit its effectiveness. The CSD executive surprised us all in June last year by pulling off a deal with the NatWest bank to relieve its debts over time. Since then little appears to have happened – or at least to have been conveyed to Design Week.

More importantly, the CSD appears to have done nothing to boost the image of design outside the confines of the industry. Its representatives haven’t been drawn into print on important issues affecting the design profession, and when did you last hear the society represented in debates on radio and TV?

You could level similar criticisms at the DBA, which has been relatively quiet as a mouthpiece for the industry. But the DBA is at least open to approaches by the media and is known to be working on various initiatives to take the industry forward.

Design has its promoters. The Design Council and, indeed, Design Week are among those ready to take a public stand in its favour. But neither of us represents designers, and though DW aims to meet readers’ needs, neither of us has members. So shouldn’t the representative bodies be joining the bid to raise the design debate? The CSD’s tendency towards infighting and parochialism can only go against design in the long-run as it misses the chance to reach a wider audience.

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