What to watch out for in the new year

There’s been no escaping predictions as the media seeks to fuel a bit of new year’s optimism. It’s not like last year, with a General Election looming, or what we might expect of 1999, with the millennium in the offing. But there are some pointers that we in design would be unwise to ignore.

1 Volatile economies in the Far East could have a big impact, particularly on product and exhibition designers. A few designers have already lost out in South Korea and Thailand because of projects cancelled through financial collapse. As the Far East has proved a lucrative source of work over the past few years, we need to monitor the situation and look at ways of minimising the damage.

2 City pundits are warning of another recession, due to bite towards the end of next year. Astute consultancies are already gearing up, having gone through the boom-to-bust scenario of the late-Eighties. Everyone needs to be ready, not relying too much on one client or sector for work and putting efficiency and creativity at the top of the agenda.

3 Things are hotting up for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and we can expect to see Australian influences creeping in – remember how the 1992 Olympics put Barcelona on the map, not least in design. Already the drinks trade is planning more Aussie-style bars in the UK to challenge the current popularity of Irish-style venues.

4 Expect innumerable retrospectives of Finnish design giant Alvar Aalto, who would have been 100 years old on 1 February, and a surge in his influence on design – not that our taste for his cool, clean lines ever went away. Great timing for Tom Dixon, who took up the design reins at Habitat UK this week with a mission to make more good, mass-produced designs for the home available at reasonable prices.

5 Whatever the fate of Tony Blair’s Government at the hands of its critics, it put a hand out to design in the early days and still appears to be interested. Apart from initiatives already in place with the Design Council, there is the thorny question of the millennium celebrations. If rumours of an imminent shake-up on the design side of the enterprise are true, the project could get the direction it so badly needs to make things happen.

1998 has to be the year that the design industry resolves its internal wranglings over representation and finds a strong unified voice. It needs to make itself heard, if only because of the positive ideas it can bring to situations such as the five highlighted here. There’s a lot to get our teeth into, so let’s not get bogged down in petty politics in a year that I hope will be happy and prosperous for all of you.

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