London’s mayor must be more than a brand

4It doesn’t bode well for design that so few of the main candidates for the job of London mayor are taking identity on board as part of their campaign in the run up to next month’s election (see News Analysis, page 9).

It doesn’t bode well for design that so few of the main candidates for the job of London mayor are taking identity on board as part of their campaign in the run up to next month’s election. Of those who have made some attempt to address the identity issue, only one has employed a designer to help create their image.

By going with Euro RSCG, independent candidate Ken Livingstone is sending out the message that he is relying on advertising to boost his cause. Liberal Democrat hopeful Susan Kramer has taken the old route of getting her campaign manager to devise a logo; Tory stalwart Steven Norris is toeing the party line in choosing blue over purple for his marque; meanwhile, Labour’s official candidate Frank Dobson has made the dubious move of using both his party’s rose emblem and his own signature – rather more of a greetings card gesture than a serious political statement.

The issue isn’t whether or not individual candidates rally under a visual banner. London doesn’t need a mayor who is little more than a brand, any more than it needs a party political puppet. It is whether or not the election victor understands how important design and other sectors within the creative industries are to the capital – as generators for change, “wealth creators” for their clients and employers in their own right.

It is also whether or not they plan to integrate design into all levels of decision-making on crucial concerns. Design Council chief executive Andrew Summers has identified transport as the greatest challenge facing the new mayor. That is vital for local people and for visitors. But if London is to retain its status as a major tourist centre, there is also the need to build its already substantial cultural reputation, address homelessness and clean up its streets. The creative industries – and design in particular – can play a key role here.

Successive mayors of Barcelona have shown what can be achieved with design at the heart of policy for a city. Paris benefited from François Mitterrand’s presidential support, particularly for architecture. The UK Government has consistently backed design in Britain, manifested largely through the genuine interest shown by Culture Secretary Chris Smith. The ideal now would be to echo that energy in a leader for London.

Most of the mayoral candidates have mouthed their support for the principle of design. It is up to us as an industry to build on that and show the new mayor how design can not only boost prosperity and improve London’s environment, but also bring a bit of delight and vibrancy to the capital.

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