The Cox Review revisited

Sir George Cox’s recommendations, and their feasibility in practice, are considered by influential figures from the design world

Wally Olins

Chairman of Saffron Brand Consultants

Sir George Cox is trying to influence our mainstream business culture, so that design and innovation become central to our thinking. This is not impossible, but it is pretty improbable. Ever since I have been in the design industry – about 100 years – most of us have been advocating the kind of policies that Cox espouses. Naturally, I am hugely supportive of it. The issue is how far this initiative will go. I would love to think that British commercial and social culture will change sufficiently to absorb the Cox lessons into mainstream life. I’d like it to happen, but I’m not sure it will.

I teach at business schools where ideas around design, innovation, branding, and so on, are still subordinated to financial issues and quantification. Of course, quantification has its place, but, if the country is really going to make its creative industries more effective, influential and financially productive, Cox has to be absorbed into our mainstream culture. Fingers crossed.

Tom Bewick

Chief executive of Creative & Cultural Skills

The recommendation to improve public sector procurement is particularly welcomed by designers. The current ‘value for money’ procurement process leads to: mutual uncertainty, as the nature of the problem changes; an aversion to risk-taking; personal judgments; consensus decision-making and non-differentiating end results. Missing from the report are: initiatives to foster collaboration with the emerging economies; leadership to ‘join the dots’ of a cohesive professional industry; benchmarking the professional standards of the industry; and a scheme, such as Investors in Design, for clients and organisations.

It is now that the hard work begins, to evolve Cox’s ideas into a real, deliverable ‘campaign’, and put in place the mechanisms to measure its effectiveness.

Sunand Prasad

Partner of Penoyre & Prasad and chair of the Constructive Change Committee at the Royal Institute of British Architects

The review’s analysis is compelling, particularly its finding that the UK has just a small window of opportunity to realise the potential of the creativity latent in its small- and medium-sized enterprises, in order to face the competition from rapidly developing economies around the world.

We would question the review’s assertion that an enterprise economy needs ‘more SMEs that do not want to remain SMEs’. It seems perfectly possible for the UK to produce world-beating products and services, without a drive toward mega-firms.

We understand the reasons for Cox’s rejection of an extension of the R&D tax credit system to embrace design, but that leaves a problem for our sector, as so much R&D is inseparable from design. We would urge more thought as to how the definition of R&D can be expanded, to ensure that R&D costs are not rendered ineligible just because they are part of a design process.

We applaud the recommendation of introducing creatives into the boardroom. This is akin to the idea of the design champion, which is finding some success in the design of public buildings.

There must be a link between Cox’s proposed network of Creativity and Innovation Centres and the current network of Architecture and Built Environment Centres. We could imagine some being fully integrated, while others, at a minimum, should develop good links.

Architecture and engineering have a direct role to play in supporting innovation and creativity in UK industry, while also forming part of that industry. The Royal Institute of British Architects can be counted on as a creative partner in driving forward Cox’s recommendations.

Stuart MacDonald

Director of The Lighthouse

Cox is absolutely spot on. The report is a masterpiece of concision that underlines design’s contemporary role as the link between creativity and innovation. Its recommendations provide a much-needed national development agenda. That The Lighthouse is used as the UK template for the proposed innovation centres is a great endorsement of what we have achieved in only six years, and we are looking forward to taking a leading role in the proposed network.

More importantly, it supports our wider aim to be a world-class design and innovation centre, along with the best of our European and Asian counterparts. If the Cox Review has done nothing else, it has pumped new energy into design and business in Scotland. But it has animated a debate, that must now be converted into a campaign, that radically alters the behaviour of UK business. If anything is missing, it is that Cox could also provide an industry-led agenda for our design schools and university research.

Peter Murray

Chairman of Wordsearch and curator of New London Architecture

Cox rightly suggests that small companies do not respond well to generalised ‘awareness’ programmes – but his design immersion ideas often seem to be just that.

What he misses out on is harnessing the design community to get these messages across to industry. Why not use the money to support design consultancies to go out and sell the benefits of design? The most effective form of promotion is face-to-face presentation, that consultancies are doing day in, day out. Funding could help design consultancies to sharpen up their act in promoting the benefits of design, to tackle businesses that are sceptical of the benefits; they could be ambassadors for creativity.

I heartily approve of his idea to bring back Design Centres. If it is to succeed, the programme – particularly the London hub – has to match the sort of ambition, scale and cost of the equivalent proposals in Singapore and Taipei.

Luqman Arnold

Chairman of the Design Museum

Cox has done a brilliant job of consulting interested parties. Alice Rawsthorn and I look forward to supporting him as he seeks to have his recommendations implemented. Design Museum trustee Terence Conran has also been invited to join the steering group working with Cox. It is fantastic to see Gordon Brown taking the lead and showing such commitment to the importance of design to the economy and future of the UK. We believe that the continuing efforts of the Design Museum to make design increasingly accessible, mesh well with Cox’s strategy to make design a central element of both the public and private sectors.

Probably the biggest challenge, but also the biggest win, will be to get engagement from the relevant Government departments. For example, to implement the higher education and procurement proposals, and to obtain funding for the [proposed] Creativity and Innovation Centres and London hub. We wish him every success.

Greg Orme

Chief executive of the Centre for Creative Business

The Centre for Creative Business’s job is to help entrepreneurs and management teams grow into bigger, more profitable businesses. We are a not-for-profit company set up with Government money to improve management skills in all of the UK’s creative sectors.

The Cox Review covers the key points well. The real challenge will be to find the financing, organisations and leaders with the desire and capability to turn a vision such as this into reality.

Representing our joint venture partners, London Business School and University of the Arts London, we are looking at ways to help, especially in preparing our current and future business leaders and raising the visibility of the UK’s creative capability.

This is a 21st century race against other urban clusters of creativity and innovation. I only hope Government and industry react quickly enough to these findings to protect our lead.

Graham Hitchen

Head of Creative London

Cox’s report provides a fantastic opportunity for the creative sector, but leadership and accountability will be critical. There must be a strong commitment to follow through on Cox’s recommendations, and for someone – Gordon Brown, another Minister, or Cox himself? – to take responsibility for ensuring that they are actually delivered.

Creative London will lead on the feasibility work for the proposed Creativity and Innovation Centre in the capital. Sourcing funding will be a major challenge – there is no guarantee of Treasury money – but the Centre’s time has come, and there will be a number of partners battling to be involved.

It is perhaps in other areas – not least in higher education and procurement – that Cox’s recommendations could have longer-lasting impact. Influencing policy in these areas will push design across the Government agenda. It should generate considerable business and reintroduce design and creativity to the curriculum.

Some might say that Cox has been unambitious and that, given the shifts in the economy, design will move up the agenda with or without his input. But there’s an opportunity here and I think there’s every reason to hope that this review could accelerate that process.

Clive Grinyer

Director of design and usability, Orange Global Products

At the launch of the report, Cox stated that the heart of the problem is the lack of exploitation of a world class resource. The report, and its acceptance by the Treasury, is a major step forward. Governments can not, even by tax credits or procurement practice, force business and public managers to lose their cynicism and ignorance of the value of design, but they can, along with all design organisations, breathe confidence and awareness into the atmosphere.

It takes experience to make people sit up and take notice of design. The [Design Council’s] Design Immersion experience, of putting designers directly in a company for short, sharp design shocks, has been extremely effective and has generated, by word of mouth, a buzz about design that beats marketed messages.

This is a great chance for design and designers to step up to the mark and deliver. The support is there – all the way to the top.

Andrew Summers

Chairman of Design Partners

There are two areas which are of special interest to Design Partners. Firstly, the extension of the Design for Business programme, supported by a design-matching service to match clients to designers. The programme has the potential to develop international capability for both SMEs and designers; and the matching service can be adapted to international, as well as UK-based clients.

Secondly, the creation of a network of Creativity and Innovation Centres across the UK. These centres have the potential to be focal points for international buyers and inward investors.

Design Partners welcomes the report and will be supporting its implementation, especially in these two areas.

COX REVIEW KEY RECOMMENDATIONS:

Design Centres: a network of Creativity and Innovation Centres throughout the UK, with a central hub in London

R&D tax credits: no extension of R&D tax credits to design, but some revisions within the existing system to increase its effect on small- and medium-sized enterprises

Education: closer links between universities and SMEs, and the establishment of academic centres of excellence for business, engineering, technology and design courses

Public procurement: a rethink of the Government’s ‘value for money’ buying tendencies, which inhibit creativity

Design Immersion: a nationwide programme to encourage SMEs to engage with creativity and creative resources

Latest articles

First look at London Design Festival 2018

This year’s week-long celebration of design will see installations by Kellenberger-White, Studio Frith and Waugh Thistleton Architects, plus a refined, “playful” visual identity by Pentagram’s Domenic Lippa.