Challenge to design to convey new message

The Product Challenge has to be one of the best things to come out of the Design Business Association (see feature, page 10). About to celebrate its fourth incarnation, the event boosts the DBA’s star rating – at least for the creativity of its product group – if you believe a trade body is only as good as its members and the ideas they are prepared to put in.

The DBA has always been fortunate in its supporters, with committees made up of visionary folk keen to get on with things. In this it could provide a model for a unified body representing design – something Chartered Society of Designers president-elect Nick Jenkins favours, and an idea the design community would be mad to dismiss without serious consideration. Setting aside the CSD’s crippling debts, there’s much to be said for going even further than a CSD/DBA merger, scrapping the status quo and starting from scratch – with or without a Royal Charter.

The proactive thinking behind the DBA Product Challenge reinforces the view that if designers came together as one body great things would ensue. But the impressive efforts of this year’s contenders throw up other important considerations.

All three shortlisted teams have gone beyond the challenge of creating 3D packs for the year 2005, painting a broader picture of future retailing while still meeting the brief. Meanwhile, IDEO’s John Stoddard and Nick Dorman let slip ahead of next week’s contest finals that they hadn’t worked out details such as the materials they might use in their packs. But they were ready to brief a packaging specialist, they said, and explain the qualities they were looking for, directing rather than implementing aspects of the project.

Such entrepreneurial stances, backed by obvious creativity, show just how circumspect designers can be, given the chance. The challenge now is for the industry bodies to spell out more effectively to clients that design is not just about taking a brief. And surely that message would be stronger if it were heard from one highly potent source.

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