Time for Johnson to reveal his hand regarding design

Lynda Relph-Knight

The only thing certain about the creative industries is that they are hard to classify as a sector. They may be enjoying Government attention, but are they as easily compartmentalised as, say, manufacturing or the service industry?

We do know that they employ a lot of people and earn some £60bn a year for the UK economy and, according to former Education and Skills Secretary Estelle Morris, these factors alone warrant Government interest as a means to build Britain’s competitive edge (see www.designweek.co.uk 3 June).

But it is hard to compare design with its sister community in advertising, let alone connect it with bigger industries such as TV and film or the ragbag of cultural pursuits including art, craft and performance. Yet, they are pigeon-holed together for bureaucratic ease.

Design’s role in facilitating social and economic change is well appreciated by the cognoscenti – and to an increasing extent by governments and clients in developing countries. The Design Council is, meanwhile, pushing its cause in UK business through the Designing Demand programme and as a means of addressing social ills such as crime. It is about to renew efforts to get it better appreciated by the public sector.

But while the number of people outside design who ‘get it’ is increasing, we need more champions of stature if it is to be assimilated more closely into the national DNA.

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone was such a champion, particularly of architecture. Cue his successor Boris Johnson, who has yet to show his hand with regard to design.

If the creative industries are key to the economy and, according to Creative Industries Observatory director Professor Simon Roodhouse, who shared a platform with Morris this week, London W1 is ‘one of the most important global sectors for the creative industries’, then Johnson has a strong card to play.

Let’s hope he enters the game soon to show what design in all its manifestations can do to increase wealth and improve lives.

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