Unfair competition, yes, but design will survive

I read with interest Sebastian Conran joining the ‘universities are competing with designers’ debate (Sounding off, DW 16 April).

We came across this problem some time ago. I recall Jim Dawton and I quizzed friends from Cardiff PDR in late 2007 on whether their costs were commercially correct, their links to facilities appropriate and sought commercial advantage. But we were won over, and their raft of awards is testament to their quality. I concluded competition from universities is a reality and considered how to adapt. I started with a refusal to ‘put something back’ by teaching at ludicrously low day rates.

I can’t say when universities started taking on commissioned research, but the employment of postgraduate students, working under a professor, was common in the 1970s. The transference of this practice to design should not therefore be controversial. The only big difference is that scientific research is usually published – a principle that has not crossed over to design where confidentiality is typically paramount.

On discovering that the Helen Hamlyn Research Centre had undertaken work it was unable to publish, I felt it had crossed this important line.

Research, in a state-funded university, is published to further the knowledge of man; confidential paid consultancy furthers the interest of clients.

Conran points to another problem that concerns me greatly/ poor-quality delivery may put clients off design in general, not inadequate design in particular. But airing the issue should educate clients and the problem will then self-regulate, surely?

When I liquidated my 25-year-old business, it wasn’t down to unfair competition from universities, but the belief that UK industrial design as I knew it was dead. It is, however, set to regenerate to meet the needs of our environmentally challenged, credit-crunch world in which a consensus is forming that we have enough ‘stuff’.

Mike Pearson, Founder, Pearson, by e-mail

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