Champion of design gives something back

Every so often a champion emerges for design who catches the imagination not just of the creative community, but of business and the public at large. Paul Smith and Terence Conran are in this mould, but our latest hero has to be James Dyson. The vacuum cleaner king has proved, by doggedly putting design at the heart of his company, that innovation pays. It’s not just his products that show what can be achieved by doing things differently; Dyson Appliances operates throughout in a refreshingly integrated way.

Those who’ve met him won’t be surprised that Dyson is now “putting a bit back into design” with his educational bequest to the Design Museum (see News, page 3). He’s already committed himself to education through “apprenticeships” at his Malmesbury factory, where college-leavers are given the chance to work in new ways.

Nor is his goading of the Government to back design more openly by putting funding into the Design Museum likely to shock. Tony Blair and friends are using “creativity” as a buzz word and showing more than a passing interest in design. Why, therefore, favour heritage venues such as the Imperial War Museum outposts over facilities bent on stimulating change in perception about the future?

But before we go overboard in praising Dyson and enter another round of establishment-bashing, we should look at the design community’s track record in all this. How many designers are members of the Design Museum? Not many. Yet how many benefit from its exhibits, its education programmes for their children and the evangelising it does?

The museum was set up by Conran eight years ago, largely with his own money, as much as a place of inspiration for designers as for public entertainment. If it ever fails to deliver, it is because it has from the outset been strapped for cash. Maybe Dyson is being kind by levelling his criticisms just at the Government.

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