Rawsthorn needs industry support after media blitz

It is a great pity that whenever design hits the national headlines it leaves a nasty taste in the public’s mouths.

Witness the identity crises of the late 1980s and 1990s, when the likes of BT and the BBC were lambasted in the tabloid press for what was considered an overspend on a logo. The media concerned hadn’t understood the breadth of application an identity change entailed, or that large corporations would have spent considerable cash on maintaining their existing identity day-to-day.

Now we have the Design Museum debacle, blown out of all proportion in the media because, presumably, of the high profile its outgoing chairman James Dyson has attained. Dyson is entitled to his view and his right to resign his chairmanship on a matter of principle. But is it really headline news? And might Dyson have served his profession better if he had handled it another way?

The Design Museum has changed under Alice Rawsthorn’s leadership, but most would argue it has been for the better. Her common touch and faster moving programme has found followers across all walks of life, which is surely to the good of design, despite the museum’s limited space and difficult location.

Perhaps, as Terence Conran suggests (Vox Pop, page 13), the museum needs to redress the balance between the seductive styling side of design and giving an understanding of the process. But shows such as its current, excellent Saul Bass retrospective ooze plenty of both, so the argument isn’t totally one-sided.

It would be good to see the design industry rallying round in support of the museum. After all, its exhibits compare well with Continental design museums, which tend to dwell on classics, and it is well placed to inspire young designers, not least through the education programme of which Dyson has been so supportive.

Let us hope the saga is soon superceded in the press by other design stories, such as the spate of local councils taking on creative stars to help them shape their future. With Peter Saville’s thoughts on Manchester now up for discussion and Thompson Design appointed by Leeds (see News, page 5) there is scope for the debate to widen.

What an opportunity for design to raise its voice in the press and get all the issues out in the open. Those who take it will not only achieve self-promotion, but will be doing their bit for the industry at large.

Perhaps it is also time for the Design Museum to enter the debate. Rawsthorn’s journalistic skills equip her well to bring into the museum’s arena popular subjects that are ‘sexy’ because of the big name designers involved; they also present an opportunity to put the idea of process across.

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