Martin Sorrell’s knighthood is one of the best bits of news for design so far this century. Not only does it acknowledge the unstinting commitment the WPP Group boss has shown to the global communications business – in which design plays a key part – it signifies the Government’s recognition of the importance of the creative industries in shaping 21st century commerce.
Apart from Sorrell though, the bumper millennium New Year’s Honours List is sadly lacking in design folk.
Architects are out in full force – Royal Opera House architect Jeremy Dixon adding Sir to his title, while Richard Rogers’ partner and Millennium Dome designer Mike Davies gets the CBE, along with Dome engineer Ian Liddell and Ian Ritchie, Davies’ former partner in Eighties architectural group Chrysalis; it’s an OBE for bridge architect Chris Wilkinson; and London Eye architects Julia Barfield and David Marks are both awarded MBEs.
But while these are arguably all design-led choices, the only award strictly for “services to design” goes to John Daugman, who is described as “an inventor”.
What conclusions are we to draw from this? Design is apparently okay, as long as, as in Sorrell’s case, it is part of the wider communications remit and directly related to business. Invention is also fine – it’s the stuff the Brits are made of, as evidenced as much in many of the 1000-plus Millennium Products as in Daugman’s OBE – and project work is to be feted, but only if it is “architectural” (while the Dome’s architect and engineer are honoured, none of the “zone” designers gets a look in, despite the hurdles they’ve jumped to get the job done).
By this reckoning we can expect the principals of Swiss architect Herzog and De Meuron to get recognition from the UK Government for London’s Bankside Tate, but not Callum Lumsden, whose consultancy is designing the gallery’s shops. And while the more inventorly creators of Millennium Products might still make the grade, there is little hope for Paul Priestman or Nigel Goode, whose consultancy worked on four of the selected products, to attract the honours just for these projects.
But the key to it all for design lies in Richard Branson’s knighthood. Couple his devil-may-care entrepreneurialism – so far matched in design only by the already knighted Terence Conran – with Sorrell’s knack of building a global creative network and you begin to understand how the Government measures success.
Not many Royal Designers for Industry can expect to make that grade, however excellent their work. But if more in design could echo the Bransons, Conrans and Sorrells, the industry may enjoy greater influence all round.