Don’t confuse our stars with design champions

In your editorial of 2 August, you write that we need our [design] champions more than ever, but ask who those leaders should be.

Taking up this question, I assure you that there are design leaders out there in a number of familiar organisations. But it might be an idea first of all to separate them from the heroes/icons you mention. Terence Conran has had the most profound influence on the public understanding of design, but he, James Dyson and Paul Smith are stars. Their vision, tenacity and success are an example for us all, but they are not necessarily in positions to lead or guide design, nor do they purport to do so.

Leadership is most often about a particular quality. A quieter, more persistent, and ultimately more powerful, human resource.

The design leaders I am thinking of work with multidisciplinary teams, largely in difficult environments, sometimes taking great strides but generally making incremental but vastly effective changes in their organisations.

The particular quality they have is an ability to champion design in what Peter Gorb used to call “the heartland of the enemy”. He was referring to the strong, seemingly endemic, resistance to design by UK industry. In that respect, we’ve started to make progress. The design message is getting through.

Our design leaders, without forsaking their innate design skills, have left their drawing boards and chosen disciplines for the front line. They are out in industry and head up teams at, for example, British Airways, BAA, BT, Royal Mail, London Transport and the BBC. They are directors and managers and operate in companies such as Rover, Boots, Rank Xerox and Samsung. They help influence and create the climate for design to flourish, and in so doing contribute to the commercial success of these institutions. It is the young people in these teams who will develop into leaders of the future.

Naomi Gornick

Course director

MA Design, Strategy and Innovation

Brunel University

Middlesex UB8 3PH

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