It is great to hear that Paul Thompson is to return to his native UK to take up the post of rector at the Royal College of Art (21 November, www.designweek.co.uk).
But his appointment will come as a surprise to many in design, who may not recall his sojourn at the Design Museum in the 1990s. The clever money was on Professor Jeremy Myerson (director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre, among other things), current Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic or a foreign design giant to succeed the eminent professor Sir Christopher Frayling to one of design academia’s top jobs, and Thompson would have ran as a rank outsider to these potential choices.
As it is, though, Thompson brings a wealth of ‘other’ experience to the post. He is neither a designer nor an academic, but he has proved a staunch champion of art and design over the years and is a great communicator.
In his most recent jobs, as director of the Design Museum and, since then, as director of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, Thompson has handled education at all levels, albeit from the outside. More importantly, for a post-graduate research-based college such as the RCA, he is adept at lining up commercial partnerships and arranging sponsorship for projects.
To many in the UK, Thompson has become a bit of a shadowy figure in the years since he moved to New York. The Museum of Modern Art has hogged the limelight here, with its major revamp by Yoshio Taniguchi and planned tower by French architect Jean Nouvel.
But those who recall him at the Design Museum will remember an erudite man with a passion for design and an early concern with issues such as sustainability. He returns to London now from left field, bringing an appreciation of a different culture and a whole new contacts book with him.
Frayling will be a hard act to follow, but this difference in approach will help Thompson in that task. We look forward to welcoming him home.