The designer decade

A decade is an arbitrary measurement of time. But as a prelude to the next millennium, the Nineties is likely to leave more of a mark than most decades, as future historians scrutinise events for clues as to what helped shape the 21st century.

It’s a happy coincidence that the tenth Design Week Awards should fall so neatly, giving us the chance to reflect on design’s role since 1989. The three special awards – for client, entrepreneur and designer of the decade – honour those who’ve furthered design over that time, in public perception as much as through their own innovations. But they also highlight cultural shifts in the UK in which design has played a key part.

Take Apple Computer, named Client of the Decade. The Apple Macintosh is an Eighties icon, launched in the UK in the middle of that decade. But in the Nineties it became the platform of choice for most designers here, changing the way they work for ever, fostering new ways of presenting design and – rightly or wrongly – helping to shape the designs themselves.

The Mac has opened up creative and communications channels for the wider public, largely through its user-friendly interface. With colourful models like the iMac and G3 coming out of the US company’s West Coast design studio, led by British-born Jonathan Ive, Macs are becoming fashion items. Though not as influential on the street as, say, Nike – a rival for the DW prize – on one hand it has changed the office landscape; on the other it has created thousands of club flyers.

It is no surprise to find Terence Conran taking the Entrepreneur of the Decade prize – an honour he could have claimed from the Sixties onwards. During the Nineties he has helped change our attitude to food, having already swayed our taste in domestic interiors. Ten years ago it would have been inconceivable that there would be so many chef’s programmes on TV; now as a nation we’re adventurous with food at home and dining out is no longer reserved for business dealings or family occasions.

Conran’s Pont de la Tour restaurant, at Butler’s Wharf in London Docklands, took the restaurant prize in the 1992 Design Week Awards. Since then the Gastrodome complex of bars, food shops and restaurants has grown and Conran has spread his influence to central London through Quaglino’s, Mezzo, Zinc Bar and The Orrery. Chelsea boasts the Bluebird Café, the Coq d’Argent opened in the City last year and other venues are scheduled.

Meanwhile, our resident foodie has set his sights abroad. Ventures in Paris, New York and elsewhere, often coupled with a Conran Shop, make great British design exports.

James Dyson is a man of the Nineties. Voted Designer of the Decade, he’s changed perceptions on the home front, through his colourful, revolutionary vacuum cleaners, following the launch of Dyson Appliances in 1993. He is promising more changes through white goods projects.

Also an entrepreneur, he has provided a role model for designers through his dogged persistence, commercial acumen and sheer talent. There aren’t enough role models like him around, and he, like Conran and Apple, deserves to be fêted for realising design’s potential in a very public way.

Client of the Decade

Sponsor: Network Design


Apple Computer

Honourable mentions




Entrepreneur of the Decade

Sponsor: Design Week

Winner Sir Terence Conran

Designer of the Decade

Sponsor: Royal Mail

Winner James Dyson

Honourable mentions David Carson, Ideo, Martin Lambie-Nairn

Latest articles