Strong design body to bring ideas to fruition

It’s interesting to see design industry stalwarts John and Frances Newell and Wally Olins striking out separately for design to be used for the public good, creating visionary programmes to help society at large.

This is what the recent British Design & Art Direction SuperHumanism seminar aimed to point up. But despite the firm belief of its instigator, Richard Seymour, that design should be an active thing – designing, he says, rather than the passive design – the SuperHumanism initiative has so far been largely sedentary.

There is a difference in approach between the Sorrells and Olins. The former, through their charity The Sorrell Foundation and in what they refer to as their ‘gap year’ post-Interbrand, are looking at ways to galvanise the design industry into action to address social ills, so far relating to the UK’s failing education and health services. It is a proactive stance you would expect of this duo, as is the creative twist in the foundation’s first project of making schoolkids the clients of top designers rather than thrusting design down their throats in the more traditional masterclass style.

Olins, again true to form, has meanwhile identified a new commercial outlet for design and other consultancy-based agencies – the increasing need for clients to show genuine social responsibility to gain customers’ respect. It is a canny Olins ploy to look beyond the horizon to see what the future could hold – a principle that has always underpinned Wolff Olins, he proudly maintains, and one he expects it to stick to under Omnicom’s ownership, though he no longer has anything to do with the consultancy. It is commercially-driven, but there are likely to be winners all round, and given Olins’ track-record, though he’s now over 70, you know he’s going to deliver, pioneering the move into yet another market for creativity.

Both these stances are laudable – as, indeed is Seymour’s SuperHumanism venture, if he can get it quickly to the next stage. They also represent the leadership that is inherent in design and other creative industries, but which is so easily masked by mediocrity when industry players fail to raise their vision above the task immediately in hand.

We are fortunate to have great individuals such as these, who are prepared to go the distance on an idea, whether or not it has client support at the outset. Would that we also had a strong, vocal, representative body for the design industry able to harness design’s natural leaders more effectively to give design direction and clout in areas where it can really make a difference – and enhance its commercial success.

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