New alliance rekindles spirit of Design Unity

It’s great to see the design industry getting its act together as a concerted force at last, with news of far-reaching joint initiatives between the Design Business Association and the Design Council (see news, page 5). This may not be the first move to effect collaboration between official design bodies, but it is the most comprehensive to date.

Those who were around in the mid-1990s may recall the Halifax Initiative, the precursor to Design Unity, which was launched to try to give design a single voice. Collaborators in that initial bid were the Design Business Association, the Chartered Society of Designers and the Design Council – all then under different managements – along with Design Week. The venture broadened out to take in others such as D&AD, the Royal Society of Arts and the Design Museum – and the CSD dropped out.

The spirit of Design Unity appears to have been rekindled – and it is no surprise that David Kester, now Design Council chief executive, is playing such an active role. In his former life as D&AD chief executive, he was a keen supporter of cohesion within design and he hasn’t lost that drive.

Particularly interesting for consultancies is the planned design referral service. A well considered way of winning work is always welcome and it would be worth putting forward your views on how it might best operate to the DBA and the council now, ahead of the launch next year. Our Letters page is at your disposal if you do not have professional links with either organisation.

From a political perspective, this will help the council to fulfil its brief to reach deeper into the design community, while bringing the merits of effective design to its client audience in both public and private sectors. For the DBA it means greater clout with its members at a time when a membership drive must be on the cards and a fantastic resource in the council on which to draw.

The great pity is that the CSD isn’t in the mix as the ‘professional society’ foil to the DBA’s trade association stance. Other professions manage to combine the two functions in one organisation and perhaps we can learn from them. Take the Royal Institute of British Architects, which courts both individuals and companies as members and has a long-established referral service.

That aside, though, the only reservation about the DBA/ Design Council tie-in is the need for the DBA to retain its independence of what is essentially a Government quango. Having Kester as a ‘special advisor’ is a valuable asset, as long as it is the DBA that is tapping into the undoubted expertise of the council and not an element of control from above.

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