Edge conference could be a catalyst for change

We in design like to think of designers as being in the vanguard of society, leading clients and consumers forward into a brighter future. It therefore came as a bit of a jolt this week to hear style guru Peter York’s take on what that cultural leadership means to the average person.

Creative folk, he told an audience of the faithful, are popular with ordinary mortals, including clients. Being interesting, not least in their nonconventional attire, and, by expounding ‘life-challenging’ ideas, ‘they give good head’, he maintains. But the downside is that, as a reward for their otherness, they are ‘sent in like canaries were into the mines and if they survive it’s safe for bankers to move in’. Does this show an admirable pioneering spirit or sheer foolhardiness?

York was speaking of the ‘Hoxton syndrome’, by which a run-down inner city area is made fashionable by the art and design set attracted by low rents and unusual spaces. The area subsequently becomes more attractive to wealthier punters wanting to appear ‘cool’ and property prices soar.

York was a keynote speaker at London First’s inaugural Edge conference about creativity in the capital. Subtitled ‘The Creative Business Forum’, the event had the admirable aim of bringing together people from across the board of creativity whose paths rarely cross.

But as an impressive array of speakers explored a range of tough issues hampering creative development it became obvious that, if it can maintain the momentum, Edge could become a catalyst for changes that would benefit design – not just in London – far more than the usual talking shop.

It could, for example, provide a vehicle for the creative industries to lobby the Government to make funding and training easier for start-ups and to encourage R&D in industry and within design. To this end fashion designer Maria Grachvogel spoke of how she’d become successful not by going to college in her teens, but by attending free or subsidised business courses organised by Margaret Thatcher’s Government. Where is that entrepreneurs’ training now?

James Dyson meanwhile welcomed the current Government’s 120 per cent tax relief deal over R&D, which could swell the number of UK patent applications. This will not only demonstrate to the world that we are a creative nation, but will put the value of that creativity back into the economy. But why, he asked, isn’t it 140 per cent or 160 per cent?

If such issues could be resolved then the canaries of creativity could sharpen their beaks and make a real impact on society. It’s a lot to expect of a conference to push the agenda, but Edge has made a great start.

Lynda Relph-Knight

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