Christopher Frayling’s well-earned knighthood couldn’t have been better timed – as far as the design community is concerned. Though the Royal College of Art rector has officially received the honour for services to art and design education, it comes nine months into his three-year stint as Design Council chairman and we can expect a man as politically astute and energetic as Frayling to use his new status to benefit all his areas of responsibility.
The timing is good in three ways. First, Frayling has deliberately taken a back-seat role at the Design Council, allowing chief executive Andrew Summers and his team to get on with running the place. Perhaps now he should show himself more, not just in education, but wherever he can wield his particular influence.
The council, for example, desperately needs to promote its work to a wider public, including the design community. Who better to spearhead this push than Frayling, a seasoned broadcaster, author, showman and “man of the people” who has brought new sparkle to cultural history via popular media. His presentations have real content – somewhat lacking in some of the council’s past publicity stunts – and they’re entertaining.
Second, UK design needs more ambassadors to court global businesses into appreciating and buying into its qualities. Knighthoods can help open doors. We already have Sirs Terence Conran and Martin Sorrell championing the cause, but, coming from the public sector, Frayling has a wider remit.
Finally, the question of leadership in design has once again reared its head, the general view being that it isn’t currently happening. One argument is that design can only really be led by creatives. Frayling, a cultural historian, has already proved this isn’t necessarily the case in his dealings at the RCA. By bringing in creative superstars such as Ron Arad, Nigel Coates, Gert Dumbar and Malcolm Garrett, he has shown his ability to harness inspirational talent. If he can use his new status to involve business gurus like Sorrell and others more directly in Design Council affairs we might really get somewhere. We wish him luck with the task.
On a sadder note, we report this week the tragic death of Minale Tattersfield founder Marcello Minale. His untimely demise has robbed the industry of a colourful and resourceful leader and many designers of a much-loved friend. Our sympathies go out to his family, colleagues and friends. We will all miss him.