King of clubs

The CSD chose wisely when it named committee expert Nick Jenkins as its president, but where will he take it? Michael Johnson met up with him. Michael Johnson is design director of Johnson Banks.

After making a name for yourself, winning the odd award, building up the odd company or two, perhaps getting on or close to the honours list, what’s left for the average designer? Well yes, you guessed it. They hear the distant call of the committee. Some designers might merely dabble at this, but Nick Jenkins has dived right in and become the committee man incarnate.

Eloquent, well connected and occasionally controversial without actually causing much controversy, Jenkins should perhaps have become a politician, such is his deftness at answering questions with diametrically opposed replies. Years of dealing with corporate identity committees has obviously paid off.

Perhaps I should explain: Jenkins has just begun his two-year stint as president of the CSD. Now, just before you get addled by three-letter abbreviations, let me help you out. The CSD (or Chartered Society of Designers) is entirely different from D&AD, has nothing whatsoever to do with STD, used to have a subgroup called the DBG (which it was affiliated to) which became the DBA (which it isn’t affiliated to). And its relationship to the Design Council is another thing entirely. Clearer now?

Probably not. Let’s start again. Once there was the SIAD, the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers. Now, realising in the Eighties that this was the mother of all mouthfuls as names go, it re-invented itself as the Chartered Society of Designers. As Jenkins says: “The CSD should represent the design profession and all that might imply. The DBA (Design Business Association) differs in that it represents design business as opposed to individuals.”

What Jenkins keeps well hidden is that he was instrumental in setting up a subgroup of the CSD – the Design Business Group – to represent businesses. This eventually became (you guessed it) the DBA. “Unfortunately,” says Jenkins, “that woman [then] at Coley Porter Bell [Jan Hall] took it out of the CSD, for reasons best known to herself. We now have this ridiculous situation of having two organisations representing slightly different areas of one industry.”

So how does Jenkins propose to solve this muddle? A straight-talking pow-wow between the two bodies culminating in a new group under a new name to re-empower the design profession? Er, no. He uses the interiors group of the CSD as an example: “I would like at least two members of the DBA to sit on that, so we have one voice on interior design. I would like to stick the CSD and DBA back together, but that will create more mayhem than good; I will do it another way, with sensible representation to Government by both parties.”

Representation to Government is one of Jenkins’ big areas for change; he sees the lobbying of Government for professional levels of design buying as one of his key tasks over the next two years. He would also like to increase the CSD’s involvement in education.

“What I see is a horrendous decline in British design education; it’s all to do with this Government notion of the more students you have, the more education you get. What happens is that the staff to student ratio gets worse and worse. You ask students who Saul Bass was and they look at you blankly. That’s a disaster. I intend to set up a register of fellows of the CSD who are prepared to give up two days of their time to go out and talk at the colleges. I think it could do an enormous amount of good.”

The attraction of new CSD members, however, seems to be pretty low on his agenda. By his own admission, it’s an area he hasn’t given much thought to yet. Perhaps it’s a result of the fact that while members have a fair idea what the CSD actually does, non-members (such as myself) have a whole host of fuzzy preconceptions. The words “charter” and “society” in combination with an end-benefit of putting little letters behind your name for no apparent reason leaves me with a mental picture of the CSD membership as a bunch of trainspotters clutching Rotrings.

Jenkins predictably takes a different view. “To put those letters behind your name is quite helpful to people, especially to those just starting off, because some clients have a perception about these things, and what the letters say is that your peers have said ‘you’re alright’. It means a lot to our members, we’ve researched it. I guess some people might see it as a bunch of old designers like myself, Ken Grange and Rodney Fitch getting together. But it’s far more than just a club for the top guys, because the top guys don’t need the club.”

So there you go. Join the CSD and you get to submit your portfolio to be vetted by your peers, get represented to Government, help with education and you may even get a few letters after your name. But there are other bodies looking to take a membership fee off the young up-and-coming designer, namely the devilish British Design and Art Direction.

A friend of mine joined the CSD at college, subsequently got some work into D&AD and was invited to join that body. The lure of inclusion in the annual, cheap tickets to lectures, the members’ newsletter and the somewhat greater prestige of D&AD persuaded him to take his cheque there.

Mention this to Jenkins and he flinches; I sense that he is not a D&AD man, and he knows it. “We’re better at the large organisational jobs than flash posters,” he says of the Jenkins Group. “I’d rather enter the Design Effectiveness Awards because it does us more good; clients couldn’t give a damn about D&AD and I’m interested in talking to a client base.” I suspect that reaching this base is the real carrot as far as Jenkins is concerned, and the CSD presidency is the next opportunity for a spot of market gardening.

Having spent a couple of hours with the new president of the CSD, I’m only a little clearer about what it is and what it will do. The strangest thing is that any sane design consultant would take about three minutes to conclude that having the CSD and DBA separate is completely loopy and they should come back together with a new name (excluding the words charter or society) and a mission to communicate to new members what they actually do. But sadly I fear this won’t be the case. And Jenkins, deep down, knows it too. I’ll leave you with his final words of wisdom on how he will approach the next two years: “It’s a bit of a seat of the pants situation. Hopefully, I will extemporise over the next two years to make a few things work.” Mmmm. I wonder.

Nick Jenkins

Born: 1939

Career:

Art director, New English Library

1961-1971 – Senior tutor, The Royal College Of Art

Guest lecturer, Yale University, USA

Guest lecturer, Rhode Island University, USA

1972 – Founded The Jenkins Group

Committee Experience:

Member of The Royal College of Art Senate 1965-197Council member and president-elect of The Chartered Society Of Designers

Co-founder and executive of The Design Business Association

Chairman of the BTEC Advisory board for Design

BTEC Council member

Chairman of the Icograda International Design Archive

Awards:

1st prize, Israel Museum International Art Book Biennale, 1969

1st prize, DBA Design Effectiveness Award for Victoria Coach Station, 1994

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