Body language

Lynda Relph-Knight sits in on conversations between Callum Lumsden and newly appointed industry leaders Adrianne LeMan and Colin Porter.

The whole world is talking about change and the design industry is no exception. The newly elected leaders of the Chartered Society of Designers and Design Business Association are, therefore, being confronted with change from various quarters. It is important to all concerned that the two bodies represent their members in a way that is relevant to the real world.

Are the CSD and DBA relevant to design businesses? Do their new heads view their positions with hope for the future? Do the CSD and DBA really speak for the majority view? Can they change the perception of themselves as being exclusive clubs? How can design’s voice be heard in the wider circle of industry, commerce, Government and the media? What differentiates one body from the other? How are they facing up to the challenges of the Halifax Initiative?

Armed with these questions, Callum Lumsden spoke to Adrianne LeMan and Colin Porter separately – they did not want a round-table discussion.

The different problems and opportunities facing each individual were highlighted by the rather gloomy demeanour of the CSD office and the quietly confident feel of the DBA. The CSD has a diminishing membership, though it claims 7000, and is struggling, with some degree of success, to regain its profitability. The DBA is the largest design trade association in the world, but still only represents some 240 of a potential 3400 design groups in the UK.

Callum Lumsden is founder of Lumsden Design Partnership and has served on the boards of both the CSD and DBA

Adrianne LeMan

Adrianne LeMan is a very brave lady. Thrust into the presidency of the Chartered Society of Designers a year earlier than she had planned – following the resignation of her predecessor Nick Jenkins in June – she took on a society in crisis. The long-standing debt was crippling the organisation, despite the move to cheaper premises, and the illness of CSD director Brian Lymbery had stripped it for months of an executive head. The CSD executive committee’s decision to back out of the review of design representation that spawned the Halifax Initiative that in turn prompted Jenkins’ departure had, meanwhile, provoked a lot of negative comment about the society.

“It was a bit of a shock,” says LeMan of being thrust into the job. But she stuck with it.

Four months on and the debt has been addressed. A deal struck with NatWest Bank will write off about half of the 700 000 owed over seven years, provided the CSD keeps its side of the bargain; management consultant Bob Law has been brought in as interim manager until Lymbery’s situation is resolved; and the CSD has rejoined the Halifax Initiative as an active participant alongside the Design Business Association, Design Council and Design Week.

The main thrust of LeMan’s manifesto as president is “to give the society back to the members”. It has, she says, been run by “a clique” of people prepared to give time and money to the society. Having been CSD treasurer from 1994-96 and president-elect for the year to June, she knows what being an officer costs, especially for someone with a relatively young business – in her case two-year-old annual reports specialist C&FD. If more members are prepared to become involved, particularly in the regions, the burden would be shared and the South East bias, of which the society is often accused, might be better balanced, she says.

A second theme is to give design a voice. She wants the CSD “to look out, not just look in”. It should, she adds, be working for the good of the industry as a whole not just its members, taking the design message to the Government, educators and clients. This second aim is already being addressed. Being part of the Halifax Initiative, the CSD is committed to the single voice idea, and LeMan met culture minister Mark Fisher last week. But getting the membership involved is a different matter.

“It’s difficult to change people’s attitudes. You have to do it by example,” says LeMan. She herself got involved in both the CSD and DBA in her 40s, “because I thought it was time to give something back”, and is also a member of British Design and Art Direction. She believes the rewards of involvement relate to what you are prepared to give.

An obvious question, following Jenkins’ resignation because of a disagreement over principle with the executive committee, is exactly where the power lies. LeMan sidesteps this slightly, saying that the executive committee has “had its nose down” dealing with issues such as the marketing plan that is key to the deal with NatWest. She adds that there is no president-elect, who will be chosen by CSD members at next May’s agm.

Then there’s the question of the relative roles of the CSD and DBA. “I’m an enthusiastic member of both,” says LeMan. The main difference is that CSD members tend to be sole traders or small consultancies, whereas the DBA represents businesses. The cross-over comes with mutual concern over professional standards and the quality of design work, she says, but each body has its own audience.

She and DBA chairman Colin Porter are, however, keen on pursuing joint initiatives, citing courses as an example of where any overlaps could be ironed out. “We will work together to create things that are good for design,” she says.

She believes the Halifax Initiative is very important. “The society has to look outward, and Halifax is part of that. We shouldn’t just look at designers, but at design,” she says. But she doesn’t foresee a merger between the CSD, DBA or other bodies as a result. “I don’t think the others will disappear,” she says. “We’ll have an umbrella organisation. The Government is not prepared to listen to different people. We must create one voice.

“I don’t think a marriage of the different factions will happen. But we will work more closely together and that will be hugely beneficial.”

LeMan, a strong businesswoman, believes the CSD has to be run as a business. “That has been a failing in the past,” she says. “But we can’t go on spending money without looking at what comes in through the door. The focus has been on services, not finance, but we can’t provide services unless the money is there.”

In her two years as CSD treasurer, LeMan took what she calls a very broad view, and she applauds current treasurer Bob Searles for taking a similar stance. Her big achievement in that post was to move the CSD from expensive, inappropriate premises in London’s Bedford Square to smaller offices in Farringdon. Much as she would like CSD’s hq to be “a Groucho’s for the arts”, she doesn’t want everything focused on London, and she doesn’t believe the members do either.

Raising professional standards underpins LeMan’s presidency. The CSD affix, she says, should mean that you are a professional designer, recognised as such by your peers.

The challenge is to control membership through a rigorous selection process, while still attracting the numbers. The gap in membership currently falls within the 25-40 age group, the majority of members being male, aged 40-plus, says LeMan.

Product and interior design are the predominant disciplines for CSD members. LeMan puts this down to the professional liabilities these disciplines carry with regard to health, safety and physical injuries. “Young graphic designers who’ve got jobs don’t think they need anything,” she says. “They think they can walk on water.”

How will she address this? “I’d like people to see the benefit of being a strong part of design’s voice,” she says, and give members really good benefits. There’s nothing tangible on the table for now, but she talks of a “new strategy, trying to help define the CSD’s role in a new world”.

“In five years it will be different again,” she says. “We will have to be flexible and learn to move with the times.”

Colin Porter

Colin Porter is one of those larger than life characters who make us glad to be in the design business. A founder of Coley Porter Bell, now part of the WPP empire, he has long been known for his branding work and for his spirit of bonhomie.

But for the past three years he’s had a political role in design. Charged with the job of boosting the Design Business Association’s Design Effectiveness Awards, he has risen to the task. Now, as incoming DBA chairman, all eyes are on him to see how he follows the brilliant lead taken by his predecessor Jonathan Sands.

For Porter, the timing couldn’t be better. “There’s a real sense of something happening in the nation. The fact we have a new Government symbolises the movement forward and I can link that with the DBA,” he says.

The DBA is the largest design trade association in the world, he adds. “We’ve got to start acting like we have much more muscle. For me, the next year is about improving accessibility for members. It has to be seen as a partnership between commerce and design.”

He counters comments that the DBA comes across as a business organisation and is “a bit serious” with the view that “it isn’t all about serious things. It’s about everyone being involved.” But he concedes: “It needs to be more about the fabric of everyday design life.”

Given his experience with the Design Effectiveness Awards, it’s not surprising that Porter believes it’s the DBA’s job, “to convince people that design is essential for business”. Asked how he is going to achieve a goal shared by many of his predecessors, he says it’s about co-operation and participation with other design bodies. “Lots of current initiatives share a common vision,” he says, adding that the impending millennium provides a focus for greater co-operation. “We have the talent and can do it. If we get rid of the egos, we can do more.”

Porter is bullish about his aims for the DBA. “I’m determined to generate more money, more muscle,” he says. “We’ve got to be more pro-active in pushing ideas to bodies such as the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors.

“I’d like the DBA to have professional sponsorship for the (Design Effectiveness) awards. I want the kudos of industry backing – we’re nowhere near what I want to achieve.”

He says it is tough getting people to realise how effective design is. “We can do it by creating heroes like James Dyson, but we really need to be more entrepreneurial. I don’t label myself as a designer. I’m more excited by the business of design than how things look. I want people [in the DBA] who have vision and can make connections. A lot of people just want to turn the handle, but it’s about innovation.”

Part of building the DBA’s muscle inevitably involves building membership, and with only 240 out of an estimated 3400 design groups currently signed up, the task is big. Porter has no firm answers to this, but is planning an egm of members to debate whether groups such as in-house designers and educators should be admitted to what has essentially been a consultancy membership.

As for other specifics, he talks of training courses for clients, of effectiveness categories within other design award schemes, and of addressing the issue of accreditation. Of these three, he sees accreditation as the hardest nut to crack. “We don’t want to make it hard for people to be involved, but an accreditation system has the benefit of upping design’s profile to clients,” he says. It would work best, he believes, “if we could make the DBA a brand that means something”.

Porter is keen on collaboration to maximise the use of resources and give design an edge. He thinks Chartered Society of Designers president Adrianne LeMan is “absolutely fantastic”, with “broad, outward-looking views”, and is already talking to her about joint initiatives. “There’s an external perception that we’re at each other’s throats,” he says of the DBA and CSD. “But it’s not true.”

Like Sands, Porter is a staunch supporter of the Halifax Initiative and sees dialogue between the various factions in design as key to moving the industry forward. “I’m one of the Halifax Initiative’s keenest advocates because it’s inclusive not exclusive, and is about generosity of spirit,” he says. “As incoming chairman, I’ve got to protect what’s good so that the DBA can grow. If the Halifax Initiative suggests something even better, we’ll do it. We just have to make sure it’s not to the detriment of DBA members.”

With his branding experience it will be interesting to see how the DBA brand – currently ill-defined to many people within or outside design – fares under Porter’s care. His own mind is still open until he completes a review of the task groups within the association and sorts out how it can be improved. As for the longer term goal, “we all dream of being on TV and getting design into the country’s culture as well as into business”, he says.

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