We must not become complacent about our achievements in design

It’s natural for UK designers to feel superior, given our track record of ground-breaking ideas and the execution of complex projects. We’ll be playing those attributes at next month’s Shanghai Expo, where Thomas Heatherwick’s exquisite British pavilion will house innovative events. But how justified is that attitude today?

We have heard much about the challenge of the developing world and the onset of China, not just as a manufacturing centre, but as a creative culture. Priestman Goode is massive there, for example, though currently has no British clients. But emerging nations aren’t the only challengers.

The D&AD Awards, judged last week, inevitably throw up debate about the merits of work from abroad. D&AD has been criticised for overemphasis on international work in the past, with its jurors possibly seduced by projects from unfamiliar cultures. But is this view still valid?

Apple is likely to do well in any contest it enters, but so too are other West Coast players in areas such as animation. And Dutch design is known for experimentation and is pushing for prominence. Eminent digital designers point to Sweden as generating some of the best work in their field, with Hyper Island at the hub of this thinking. And then there are the Japanese.

Last week saw the opening of a new London office for adland’s Japanese giant Dentsu, owner of UK design group Attik. As part of that event, staged with D&AD, Simon Waterfall, formerly of Poke, curated a show of Japanese ’finds’ ranging from traditional origami to iPhone games.
Waterfall has an eye for these things. Details are sketchy still about his new endeavor Fray, but we can expect it to follow a different consultancy model – his former groups Deepend and Poke did so in their time.

We need to stay on our toes creatively, whatever our specialism, to beat overseas endeavors. But it shouldn’t just be what we do, but how we do it, that marks out British design.

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