There are many moments of joy in design. My first job was designing car radios for Ford. Thinking of the number of people who were going to use the radio was exhilarating. Of course, they were going to be more interested in what was coming out of it rather than what it was like to fiddle with, but we knew we had been successful when Ford car radios started getting stolen again.
Driving to a conference in the US, I passed a car that I realised was being driven by David Hockney, who was speaking at the conference. It gave me great pride to realise that, though he didn’t know it, he was tuning one of my radios.
There are many such moments of pride in design. At the International Design Effectiveness Awards lunch pride was to be seen on many faces, both designer and client. The achievements of, by a wonderful coincidence, great design work in terms of impact, performance, sales and financial success that comes together in the word effective, are certainly worthy of pride. If we want to find the most compelling arguments for the power of design, across business, public services and government, each winner is a powerful story of achievement and over-achievement. When I go shopping, I feel pride when I see Williams Murray Hamm’s packaging for Hovis, knowing the sheer scale of the increase in sales brought about by decorating the packaging with the food that will eventually decorate the bread.
Many non-designers are puzzled that, when design can achieve such great things, designers are happy to get paid for their time, and not benefit from greater financial rewards based on the success of their work. For whatever reason, designers doing more than selling design time, and becoming real entrepreneurs, doesn’t seem to be a popular option.
The ICA/Design Council Platform club, the student version of the grown up Young Creative Entrepreneurs Club set up so successfully by ICA director Philip Dodd, is an attempt to change that. The idea of the club, and Platform, is to bring together people at the start of their creative careers to identify future entrepreneurs who will go on to develop the next generation of companies and nurture and feed their ability to sustain their future activities.
Pride is vital to entrepreneurialism. It inspired my friends and I to start our own company, selling our services to those who we could persuade would benefit from them. We felt great pride to see ‘better by design’ on the side of one of our client’s delivery lorries. But despite deliberately coming up with a name that could be applied to businesses other than design ones, we never did start up the restaurant, furniture company or retail chain that we thought we might. For us, as with so many designers, thoughts of entrepreneurialism went no further than being supposed masters of our own destiny and providers of increasingly effective design solutions.
Occasionally, designers aspire to higher things. Terence Conran turned a passion and talent for design into a social phenomenon. Occasionally, design, innovation and entrepreneurialism come together in one person – for example, James Dyson.
A small number designers have put their toe into a bigger entrepreneurial pond. But not many.
Given the great passion of designers to drive forward real values and innovative solutions into a vast array of businesses large and small, the great experience many bring to every brief and the vision, intuitive or otherwise, of trends and the future, why is it so few designers develop what we might call real businesses? Is it enough to swan around in casual clothes, lead creative teams and turn up at awards ceremonies when all goes well? Is it really enough?
As a designer you can have a lot of fun. You can create work that affects, and hopefully improves, many people’s lives. That can generate great pride.
For many Platform students, the chance just to work at any of their hero consultancies would be a fine achievement. To be at London’s Savoy Hotel enjoying the glow of success in effectiveness would represent true triumph. But I hope they aspire to more than that and look at the businesses and services around us and say ‘I could do that’. Bring the skills of creativity and empathy with real people – a vision of what’s possible is vital to any business. These students have those tools; we need them to form the new business and new values we all crave.