Dyson quitting reveals fractured meaning for design

James Dyson resigning from the Design Museum’s board of trustees has provoked much comment and revealed a belief in certain quarters that design is principally a union of engineering science and industrial manufacturing technology.

James Dyson resigning from the Design Museum’s board of trustees has provoked much comment and revealed a belief in certain quarters that design is principally a union of engineering science and industrial manufacturing technology.

Considering the multifarious, wonderful and often profitable ways in which talented people turn abstract ideas into material things – including vacuum cleaners – this belief seems remarkably narrow. The British Council has long recognised that design means many different things in the world, and until those things are knit into a coherent fabric of related meanings, design will never be universally valued.

We’re normally concerned with investigating whether grassroots innovation in Africa and the Milan Furniture Fair belong to the same family. But this week’s debate reveals a fractured set of meanings for design even in Britain, which has some of the world’s most progressive design/design education.

The Design Museum since 2001 has shown Rolls Royce’s Trent engine, Manolo Blahnik’s shoes, Saul Bass’s movie titles and Constance Spry’s progressive career advice to young women in the 1930s, all under the same roof. The public appetite for such diversity is well demonstrated by impressive visitor and membership figures.

To present all this in a spirit at once intellectually vigorous and populist, and with such a prolifically changing programme is a great achievement.

Emily Campbell

Head of design

British Council Arts Group

London SW1A

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