Collaboration can be more than a buzz word

Remember the Eighties when it was “designer this” and “designer that”? The letter D dominated that era. Then came the Nineties, stricken with poverty and synonymous in the media with that C-word, “caring”. Now new buzz words have emerged, on the lips of everyone from New Labour leaders to design’s own politicians: that old chestnut “creativity”, and “collaboration”.

If we hadn’t already got the message, not least from Tony Blair, President of the Board of Trade Margaret Beckett kicked off Design in Business Week saying that “the Government is committed to promoting creativity”. Given the context of her speech and the initiatives Blair has lent his name to, it would be easy to think that design was being singled out for special treatment. But “creativity” is a big word, embracing many things from science to the arts, and design will have to develop muscle if it is to gain real influence. After years of trying, it still hasn’t had the power to persuade successive governments to sort out their own design-buying strategy, let alone make a consistent impact on the UK’s standing as a trading nation.

The challenge is there for the industry to meet, which brings us to that other word, collaboration, as a way of rising to it. We all bang on about the best results in design being achieved through teamwork, involving designer, client and others in striving to implement great ideas. We’ve witnessed many outstanding examples – the collaborative methods of consultancies such as Seymour Powell and Ideo; and client-led ventures that have led to great work for companies such as Orange and Rover when it was British and Gordon Sked was there.

Now the will to work together has spread to design’s official bodies. The old Design Forum literally paid lip-service to it, bringing together disparate bodies to chat about areas of common interest. But initiatives currently on the table promise to be more than talking shops.

The Design Council has lent its support to various ventures – not least the Design Business Association’s Design Effectiveness Awards announced last Monday. It’s often done little more than put its name to existing initiatives or host an event. More exciting is the prospect of a pooling of resources mooted by participants in the Halifax Initiative to boost design’s strength through unity.

Meanwhile, with Chartered Society of Designers president Adrianne LeMan and DBA chairman Colin Porter both keen on collaboration, we could hope to see an end to the confusion and separation in those quarters (see Feature, page 16). We must at least hold them to those promises if design is to reach maturity at last.

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