Design personalities could motivate UK businesses

It’s ironic that British Airways, an acknowledged champion of design, should dumb down its design management operation just as the Government steps up its commitment to creativity in business.

BA has come in for some stick over its designs in the past. The debacle over the tail fins created by the then Newell & Sorrell, which resulted in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher draping her handkerchief over the model of a plane sporting the new livery, was a low ebb. But BA has always put design at its heart.

Reports that it is now retrenching on that stance and making design management a departmentalised function of the business, rather than integral to its vision, is sad news indeed. It goes against the mood of the Government, which is in the throes of boosting its involvement in design.

In the week that his boss was compromised by the financial dealings of her husband, Creative Industries and Tourism minister James Purnell was poised to name a couple of design champions as part of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Creative Economy Programme announced last November. In so doing, perhaps he is providing a clue as to how design is best ‘sold’ to business – via personality, rather than through systems.

This evangelical approach is already working in some sectors. Word is that the remarkable Richard Seymour is having an impact as an advisor to the mighty Unilever, through a mix of expertise, hard work and passion. Meanwhile, Peter Saville is sought after as a consultant (see News Analysis, page 9).

The good thing about BA is that it frees up head of design Mike Crump. Having someone of that calibre out there to advise other businesses is excellent for design – Raymond Turner, former design head at airports authority BAA, is proving a great ambassador.

Perhaps then the time has come for individual effort to motivate and refocus UK business. We have the talent at the senior end of design, so let’s promote it.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor

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