Design should take the lead on issues that build stature

The design community has come under fire from two quarters this week for its apathy over issues it should be championing.

On the one hand, Royal College of Art research fellow Rob Holdway launches a direct attack on packaging designers for not taking environmental concerns on board and steering clients towards recyclable and recycled materials (News, page 6). And his argument that the design industry should be rising to the challenge rather than waiting for clients to take the lead makes sense.

Popular belief in the industry is that there isn’t enough information available for designers to weigh up the options on the materials and processes involved in sustainable design. Certainly, it is a complex subject. But at last week’s conference Thinking Beyond the Box, organised by the Waste and Resources Action Programme with Kingston University, it became obvious that the data is there in abundance on the supplier side. What is lacking is dialogue between designers, clients and materials producers and design is missing an important trick by not initiating those conversations.

A softer, though no less damning, blow is meanwhile dealt by Artomatic’s Tim Milne, whose mission is to elevate graphic design to a position of value and respect among the public. Milne is from a printing background and London-based Artomatic retains its printing side, though it is seeks to balance its print brokering with events and other ventures to boost the standing of the printed object.

Milne maintains printers and designers are more concerned with production processes than in how people receive the outcome. By seeing print as an object in itself, and identifying its authors, graphic design can attain a stronger following in its own right, he says.

Artomatic already has a shop in London’s Clerkenwell and a concession in Selfridges’ Oxford Street store, selling print-related fashions, posters and artefacts. It has a library of printed items for designers to assess the effect of materials and process on the end-product and runs events to bring together designers and printers. Now Milne is extending Artomatic’s membership scheme to build stronger links between all concerned in print. By building its own consultancy side on print quality across various media, he and his colleagues are stepping up their campaign.

One of the outcomes of Artomatic’s actions could be to raise the profile of the printer beyond that of mere supplier. Designers likewise are too often considered in this guise by clients and others, partly through their anonymity. But by taking a lead on key issues, the design industry can do much to change perceptions. Why not start to take ownership now?

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