Strength in numbers

Designers from all over the UK should form regional groups to raise awareness and fight design’s cause, says David Revell

When I moved away from Cornwall, to study at Central St Martins College of Art and Design and the Royal College of Art, I didn’t think I’d be able to return and put the skills I had learnt to use.

Opportunities for graduates were few and far between, and anyway, London was the centre of the universe.

My perception of Cornwall had been shaped by my growing up there – it’s a gorgeous place to live, a social place with a distinctive environment, but it didn’t seem to be the place to pursue a professional career.

Things changed with the birth of our first baby. Our priority became providing our family with the sort of upbringing myself and my Cornish partner had enjoyed. We took a risk, replied to an ad, and I now find myself at the centre of a design consultancy in Falmouth.

What makes working here exciting is the extraordinary variety of work we undertake. With significant communication challenges and appreciative clients, this region is a thoroughly rewarding place to work. Better still, I now spend my weekends with my family and look forward to long summer evenings on the beach after work.

But what has really impressed me is the level of debate and energy in the local design community. This is a new experience – there is a perceptible buzz in the air, with designers finally talking to each other and sharing experiences. This culture has been created by the Cornwall Design Forum and I’m proud to be a member. Founded a little over a year ago by Helen Blake, Phil Gendall, Howard Miles and Martin Nixon (from design consultancies Absolute, Gendall, Timothy Guy and Nixon respectively), with the support of local regeneration agency Creative Kernow, the CDF’s primary objective is raising the profile of design in the county, through events and other marketing opportunities.

This isn’t something that is unique to Cornwall – designers all over the South West region are getting together for their mutual good.

The West of England Design Forum has been established in Bristol by Roger Proctor and Nick Hand. A similar forum is being established in Somerset, and I understand that Devon and Poole are shortly to join the fold.

All of these small, regional forums are joined by a ‘hub’ organisation – the South West Design Forum, chaired by Phil Gendall. This group meets quarterly to share ideas, set agendas, raise the level of debate, and make sure that design sits squarely on the agenda of the region’s business community and the regional government agencies.

Getting together, demonstrating what you’re capable of and ensuring local business understands the value of design, seems like such an obvious idea, that we wonder why every region isn’t doing it.

The forum provides a communication channel between designers and business people, and also plays a crucial role in repositioning the region in the minds of design buyers. Cornwall boasts designers with intelligence, strategic thinking and creativity, but this depth of talent was made abundantly clear during last month’s Cornwall Design Week – the first event of its sort in Cornwall and the first public-facing event organised by the CDF.

The aim of the event was to encourage engagement, by the public and businesses , with the best that the flourishing design industry has to offer.

An exhibition of work, created by CDF members, facilitated this engagement, with a variety of supporting events: portfolio reviews for recent graduates in a speed-dating format; opportunities for local school children to view the exhibition and talk about careers in design; and business breakfast meetings attended by designers and business managers, with a focus on how design adds value.

The events also provided an opportunity for us to stand back and celebrate our colleagues’ work.

I’m delighted that the CDF also managed to twist Wayne Hemingway’s arm, to come and give a fantastically inspiring talk, to bring a conclusion to the week’s events.

It’s time for the UK’s regional designers to realise that they are a potent force – they need to join forces and make some noise. Working together is the only way we’ll shift perceptions of design as a purely urban-based, South East-centric profession, creating a healthy future and a better lifestyle for us all.

David Revell is creative director of Gendall

TIPS:

• Get the movers and shakers together

• Throw a party to launch your forum and sign up members – booze helps

• Be sure to include a data protection opt-out on the membership form

• Convene your board and write a constitution

• Get ‘eventing’ – raise your profile with anything from a pub social to a debate on free pitching

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