Yes, design really can play a role in changing the world

Lynda Relph-Knight

Chris Tacy is bold in his assertion that design can change the world (see Business Insight, page 19).

His view that global greatness can be achieved by aligning brand strategy and design thinking with investment in entrepreneurial start-ups fits well with initiatives such as the Design Council’s Designing Demand programme. The idea that UK companies need a raft of support services, including design, is wholly valid, but will it change the world?

Changing the world is relatively easy compared with another idea being touted around the seminar circuit. This month, activists in the North West addressed the question ‘Can design save the world?’ at The Hub’s latest Group Hub networking session, while the idea of fashion saving the world saw arch campaigner Katherine Hamnett in the hot seat at the Victoria & Albert Museum in February.

Not surprisingly, across the Atlantic things have become more parochial in the run-up to the American presidential election. Last autumn saw the American Institute of Graphic Artists asking ‘Can design save democracy?’, which it is right to ask, given the devastating effect of dodgy ballot forms when George Bush came to power.

Though each of these questions starts from a different standpoint, the answer to all is a qualified ‘yes’. Injecting design thinking into the culture is bound to change business – arguably for the better; design can help to save the world once practitioners fully grasp the importance of sustainability and the role they can play in promoting it; fashion can help to save the world if ‘names’ like Hamnett continue to wield their influence to promote issues and ideas; and design can obliterate the chads that made some US election papers invalid, even if it cannot help uphold democracy in some countries.

Design can go some way to achieving these objectives. What is interesting is that some think it can now go the whole hog, marking a welcome upturn in confidence in design’s potential that is to be encouraged.

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