When Andrew Summers stands down as Design Council chief executive in March, design will gain another powerful ambassador. For though Summers is not a designer, he believes in design’s potential to make a difference.
Eight years at the council – as its first chief executive since the John Sorrell blueprint changed it beyond recognition – has given Summers opportunities in design on a par with those that face, say, former BAA design head Raymond Turner. Like Turner, Sorrell and the legendary Wally Olins, he now plans to take on broader roles in public and private sectors, where, from the industry’s perspective, he can be of most value.
But while the design community will watch Summers’ future with interest, of more immediate importance is who will take his place at the Design Council.
Over the past couple of years, things at the council have started to gel, with a group of energetic directors leading the management team. It has moved beyond promoting the idea of design to small businesses and the Millennium Products that were central to that effort in the late-1990s to collaborate with other bodies to show what design can actually deliver in a social context and to identify a bigger role for design in global business and research.
We in design hear most about Design Council director of design and innovation Clive Grinyer. He is, after all, one of our own – a product designer and a regular Design Week columnist. His successful bid, with others, to secure European Union funding for the Design for Future Needs initiative and appearance on conference platforms across the globe have done much to spread the message.
But his colleagues include director of learning Hilary Cottam, whose company The Do Tank is involved in improving prison and school environments through design. Meanwhile, director of business Harry Rich has projects up his sleeve to prove design’s effectiveness to companies that go way beyond the overly positive case-studies the council previously thrived on.
The council has worked hard to convert Government to design, with some success, and has made inroads into business. But it has yet to crack the design community. With a remit to act as the catalyst between Government and business, the council’s main brush with the industry has been through its official bodies.
A chief executive drawn from the design community might address this, while instilling a greater understanding of design within the council, whose staff largely come from other areas. We hope Design Council chairman Professor Sir Christopher Frayling and his colleagues will recognise the opportunity and act on it.