Action man needs back up from a design posse

In a week of “changing places” as Larry Barker takes the helm at British Design & Art Direction and Dutch design star Gert Dumbar is named as visiting professor in graphics at the Royal College of Art, the big surprise is the announcement that Christopher

In a week of “changing places” as Larry Barker takes the helm at British Design & Art Direction and Dutch design star Gert Dumbar is named as visiting professor in graphics at the Royal College of Art, the big surprise is the announcement that Christopher Frayling is to succeed John Sorrell as Design Council chairman.

An odd choice, you might think, to have an academic spearheading an organisation supposedly at the leading edge of promoting design in Government and business. But anyone who knows Frayling – or saw the “action man” exposé of him in the gripping BBC TV series on the RCA last autumn – will understand what an inspired choice his appointment is.

There is an air of the mad professor about the RCA rector, an energetic enthusiasm for just about everything. But he is used to delivering, manoeuvring his way through the complexities of educational funding and demands of big business sponsors of the college.

We can expect to see a lot of Frayling during his three-year stint at the Design Council. Unlike most college heads – or, indeed, John Sorrell when he became Design Council chairman – he has a strong media profile. A prolific broadcaster and author, his repertoire extends from Tutankhamen to Dracula and cinema culture – the announcement of the Design Council job last Monday coincided with the publication of his epic biography of film director Sergio Leone, king of the “spaghetti western” – and his stuff is immensely entertaining.

Unlike Sorrell, whose impressive blueprint for change shaped the Design Council as we know it, Frayling isn’t faced with a clean sheet. Chief executive Andrew Summers and his team have taken big steps, particularly in fostering Government interest in design. Nor is he likely to dabble much in the affairs of the council’s executive: the RCA has taught him how hard it can be if honorary masters start to meddle with day-to-day issues.

So what can he do, other than boost design’s media coverage? Top of his agenda is the tough task of engaging the design community more in the council’s business – something Sorrell has not really been able to do, possibly because, being a designer, the industry expected special treatment from the start.

Some industry bodies are already involved with the council, particularly the Design Business Association and D&AD. But while Frayling remains open to suggestions on this one, it’s up to us to tell what terms of engagement we think would best apply. I welcome your ideas on this one, to publish in Design Week if appropriate and to pass on to Frayling as he prepares for his accession in April.

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