One of the best things about the Wedgwood saga is the way the in-house designers have become as much heroes within the company as the celebrated trio of design consultants. The move, led most conspicuously by Apple Computer star Jonathan Ive, for in-house design to shed its dowdy image and come across as a seat of true innovation has found, in Wedgwood, another patron.
Wedgwood’s Sarah’s Garden range by Sarah Barker and the Night and Day crockery set by Simon Stevens are no less stunning than the lines by Nick Munro, Paul Costelloe and Michael Sodeau. No one new line shines out in what must surely be one of the most exemplary exercises in design management and brand-repositioning we have seen in many years. Each one gives consumers a choice of modern ceramics we may never have expected from an erstwhile traditional manufacturer.
It is not usual for UK manufacturers to name their designers, whether consultant or in-house. It hasn’t been the done thing in a culture that has played down the individual – and design. But things have changed, thanks to a large extent to media focus on design, and it would be good to see the likes of Wedgwood naming its designers as part of its product marketing. We might expect Tom Dixon at Habitat to do the same, given the media standing key members of his team earned before they joined him. If you can have a Terence Conran restaurant, why not a Matthew Hilton chair and Georgina Godley textiles from Habitat?
This cult for naming may be following fashion, with its penchant for names and labels, but why not? If it means greater standing for designers and better, affordable products for consumers then so be it.
Of course, while it is great to see in-house designers finding “credibility” among their consultancy peers, it is only half of the story. Just as you need a good in-house team – exactly what James Dyson, like Apple, boasts of his business – there’s always scope for outside stimulation. Take the way Richard Seymour and Dick Powell have famously injected fresh ideas into everyday manufacturing through their TV series, as Sir John Harvey Jones encouraged creative management thinking before them. But the real way forward is a balance of both.
Ideo founder Bill Moggridge once said the best things happen when a strong consultant works with a strong in-house team, with complementary skills and mutual respect. At that time, Japan invariably relied on in-house design, while the UK was high on product consultancy stars. At last we’re starting to get closer to the ideal, with the likes of Wedgwood leading the way.