We need champions to lead design forward

It’s ironic that an industry full of creative leaders should lack leadership and a public persona. In the public eye, design is the stuff of fashion, football and celebrity chefs – a lifestyle issue rather than a commercial force that can enhance business performance and quality of life. Look at the way the national media portrays it (see Private View, page 13).

Yet we have visionaries, not least Williams Murray Banks founder Richard Williams, whose letter (opposite) indicates the will of design’s key players to pull together. We can all name potential leaders, and, as Williams says, some are already doing their bit to build a better future for design.

It is unlikely though that any of those names are tied up in the politics of design’s representative bodies, the Design Business Association and the Chartered Society of Designers. British Design and Art Direction probably boasts the biggest “official” design star, in its new president Richard Seymour of Seymour Powell, but its remit is to promote creative excellence among a largely advertising membership rather than to push the commercial strengths of design.

Quite apart from deserving greater recognition, there is a real need for design to get its act together. Our Business Links correspondent, Andrew Mitchell (Letters, DW 29 January) raised the issue of accreditation. Williams, meanwhile, points up the challenges we face where design needs leadership.

Architecture hit a crisis in 1984 when the Prince of Wales spoke out against modern architecture, swaying public opinion with his personal prejudices. Leadership came then not from the Royal Institute of British Architects, but from top practitioner Richard (now Lord) Rogers, who argued back with vehemence in the national press. Several notable modern buildings have got through since, not least Sir Norman Foster’s planned headquarters for the new London mayor.

In 1990 D&AD was in crisis, following the departure of its director Edward Booth-Clibborn amid questions regarding its funds. A saviour emerged in Anthony Simonds-Gooding, brought in from the client side, and now playing chairman to David Kester’s chief executive. D&AD’s achievements since then have been exemplary.

Design isn’t exactly in crisis, and we have public figures in entrepreneurs Terence Conran, James Dyson and Paul Smith. But opportunities for advancement could be lost if we don’t field new champions from the heart of the industry. But who are they, and what issues should design be addressing? Tell us your views.

Latest articles