Accessibility is the key to Design Museum’s future

In the Financial Times this week, John Gapper argued that brands are worth more than designers. He was writing in the context of fashion, where names such as Tom Ford and his successor at Gucci, Frida Giannini, enjoy public acclaim.

In the less lofty realms of design, it has ever been the case. Even Apple Computer superstar Jonathan Ive and Ford’s J Mays are hardly household names, despite considerable media interest. And, while Richard Seymour is reportedly making inroads into Unilever via his involvement in the Dove brand, it is highly unlikely that his name will become synonymous with that of the FMCG giant outside creative circles.

The exception in all this is Terence Conran. A brand, as well as a man, he has touched the lives of many through his restaurants and shops – and is universally recognised by public and professionals alike as a designer.

It is interesting, therefore, that he should be in the midst of the debacle at the Design Museum – another of his creations (see News Analysis, page 9). For, while Alice Rawsthorn is having a moment of fame as the media cotton on to her departure as director, it is Conran who will continue to be associated with the museum. Who outside design, for example, remembers Rawsthorn’s predecessor Paul Thompson, who now heads New York’s Cooper Hewitt museum?

But every prominent personality brings a different approach. Conran still wields considerable power at the museum, if tales of boardroom wranglings are to be believed, while chairman Luqman Arnold is set to define its next chapter. But they shouldn’t forget that Rawsthorn has broadened its appeal in a way that those in design applaud.

The museum must move on and relocation is key to that. But why not, as Adam White suggests in his letter, take a leaf out of the retail book and also inject the stories behind good design into the high street, building on Rawsthorn’s legacy of accessibility? The impact could be massive.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor

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