Is design an industry rather than a creative profession?

What would it be like if a top designer was to run an art gallery? What, indeed, if an artist-turned-gallery director was to turn her hand to design?

The prospect was fleetingly there this week when, in a public discussion on how design might be better understood, Julia Peyton-Jones, director of London’s Serpentine Gallery, suggested that she and Pentagram partner Daniel Weil swap jobs.

I suspect the notion stopped there, but what provoked Peyton-Jones’ idea has important ramifications for design. While she, a self-confessed outsider, spoke of a golden age for design, art and architecture, with boundaries blurring and public interest high, Weil pronounced design a ‘Cinderella’, when it should be about cultural leadership.

Weil maintains design has become an industry, but not a profession, and that designers have become undisciplined and weak. As long as it is used as a tool to represent other cultural forms, it will be relegated, he says.

These are interesting thoughts, which should have resonance in an industry that is renowned for its lack of confidence in the face of clients, compared with, say, advertising and architecture.

It is particularly interesting that Weil should issue his challenge at a time when design’s reputation is riding so high. The buzz remains over Chancellor Gordon Brown’s passionate support of design at last week’s opening of the London Design Festival (DW 22 September), and the public sector in general appears to be taking design to its heart, thanks to the efforts of the Design Council and others. But what better time for design to look inwards at itself?

So has design lost the ideology that, Weil maintains, was once there and have the consultants, who have helped make it an industry, watered down the potency of its basic asset, design? If so, is it a question of education, with courses under-funded and over-subscribed?

Rebuilding confidence among designers would be a great start, but how do we do it? What do you reckon?

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