Less of the cheap frills

While design suffers from misrepresentation in the media thanks to a glut of house-makeover TV shows, Callum Lumsden knows who should lead the industry

A mate in the design world got me into a conversation about whether there was a need for a group of “design activistas”. Think of the opportunities.

It would mean that members of the design community could call them up on their “designmobiles” and ask them to travel at breakneck speed to berate a retailer about the inadequacy of the design of his new shop. Or they could be a sort of designer hit squad with no compunction about setting fire to a printing company which is producing a new corporate brochure with really bad kerning.

At last there would be a representative of the design community ready with an erudite statement for any occasion.

The point is, who in the design world is seen as the public persona of our industry?

Let me tell you, readers, we are currently represented by none other than Laurence Llewelwyn Bowen of Changing Rooms. Yes, to your average Sun reader, the person most likely to be a designer wears velvet frock coats and has hair similar to Freddie Mercury circa 1974.

Now don’t get upset, but when was the last time that the popular press paid any attention to serious design? When was the last opportunity for design to be listened to in a way which touched the heart of the majority of the people in this country in a persuasive, entertaining and engaging manner rather than be the scapegoat for the media’s latest campaign against “outrageous design fees”?

It certainly didn’t happen with the BA Tailfins project. The BT Piper drama suffered from a resounding and embarrassed silence from the design world. Most recently of all, the good work produced by the designers and architects in the Millennium Dome has been ridiculed by the press, who seem to have no idea of the amount of brain cells which were deployed to try and create something which could live up to the hype created by the Government.

The nearest we got on that one was Stephen Bayley (God bless him) who had to resign from the Dome board to get any attention. And hey, voilà, he even gets a slot on Have I Got News for You.

You see, as far as I’m concerned, the only way for design to really gain credibility is to make waves in mass media. I’m talking Michael Parkinson, TFI Friday, Question Time, Da Ali G Show and The Sunday Times Culture supplement. I seem to remember Michael Peters, Jan Hall and Terence Conran appearing on some of these in the 1980s but, who is representing us nowadays?

It’s all very well having your packaging design for Gocter and Pramble being reviewed in Marketing and your new corporate identity for Joe Scrote being lauded in Campaign. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting sexy shots of Marco Pierre de Blanc’s new restaurant design in Design Week and your new website for dotty.com in Creative Review. But none of that stuff gets anywhere near the people who actually use design the most. And who are they?

In case you hadn’t realised, it’s the ordinary man and woman on the street. It’s the chap on the Clapham Omnibus. It’s my next door neighbour who makes false teeth (honest) and it’s my mum. Get my next door neighbour to name somebody who is a designer and you are highly likely to draw a complete Blankety Blank.

OK, you might get answers like “That Conran geezer, but he runs restaurants doesn’t he?” Or “how about that Dyson fella, he designs Hoovers?” (“No mate he designs Dysons actually.”) Or “Howzabout that fat geezer with the hair who designs bras. Wotsisname? I wouldn’t mind having his job, know what I mean?”

See what I mean?

Let’s face it. Apes have David Attenborough, plants have David Bellamy, art has Brian Sewell, food has AA Gill and mathematics has Carol Vorderman. Who has design got? Bloody Laurence “poncy cuffs” Llewelwyn Bowen that’s who.

Well if we haven’t got anyone, let’s groom someone from another sector who can grab the popular media’s attention in an entertaining, provocative and engaging way. Any candidates spring to mind?

I nominate Ali G. Imagine the scene on a Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman.

“Boo yacka shan Jerry. Is you doin’ it wit’ Kirsty Young? Have a toke on me spliff and let me tell ya ’bout wot me and me mate Dave was tinkin abah’t for da noo brand strategy for Staines Town Centre. It will cost millions a’ squid, but hey! Bo selecta and respec! Innit. Westside!”

Does anybody have any other suggestions?

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