Royal Society of Arts in consultation row

The Royal Designers for Industry are criticising parent body the Royal Society of Arts for the way it researched and launched its Design & Society manifesto.

The RSA unveiled its new manifesto, written by director of design Emily Campbell, last month (DW 23 July). However, Master of the Faculty of RDIs Chris Wise complains that the RSA and its manifesto have failed to answer ‘the question that we put to them on 22 May – what does the RSA see as the role of excellent design in contemporary life?’.

The Design & Society paper, titled, ‘You know more than you think you do/ Design as resourcefulness and self-reliance’, aims to convince designers to share their knowledge and ‘resourcefulness’ with the general public.

Former head of the RDIs and Studio Dempsey founder Mike Dempsey also expressed concern. He says, ‘The manifesto has nothing to do with the RDIs. I was not consulted, and neither were any of the other RDIs, as far as I know, which seems like a fantastic missed opportunity. The faculty has an incredible array of designers and a huge amount of knowledge, so it seems odd not to have asked them their opinion on the future direction of the RSA.’

Campbell says she sent the RDI Executive two drafts of the paper and made two presentations to the faculty about ‘the direction of RSA Design’, and updated the executive in the spring. She also claims to have informally asked members, including Dempsey, whether ‘in their professional work they have ever made anyone else more resourceful and self-reliant’ during her research for the manifesto.

Dempsey, who stresses he is commenting ‘from a personal perspective’ rather than as a member of the RDI faculty, refutes that Campbell’s actions amounted to consultation. ‘What I believe happened was that we were presented with a fait accompli,’ he says.

Campbell argues that the RDIs failed to fully engage in the consultation process, claiming that, ‘The point of showing them the drafts was to get their response, but they did not make any suggestions in writing.’

Royal Designers for Industry:

  • The title Royal Designer for Industry was introduced by the Royal Society of Arts in 1936 to honour designers of excellence
  • The RDI Ordinance says that the RSA Trustee Board ‘may from time to time as occasion may arise consult the Royal Designers… in regard to any matter relating to design or incidental to it’
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  • Jonathan Baldwin November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Sorry but this sounds like some “Very Important People” claiming not to have been treated like Very Important People. Aw, bless.

    I can’t believe someone sat through a presentation and didn’t use the opportunity then to ask questions or make comments. Instead resorting to this very public show of disquiet undermines the excellent work that Emily Campbell has done.
    I’m sure RDIs would be the first to object to design by committee, but seem intent on demanding it in this case. Why?

    This whole article should be re-written from the other side. “RDIs fail to make contributions then have a hissy fit about it”.

    From now on, you 99.999% of “not very important people”, remember to ask the lord of the manor before you plough the field, if only to make him feel very special indeed.

  • Paul Thurston November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Great response Jonathan!

  • Sean November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    This is elegant proof that there are too many factions in the British design industry today. Right now British design needs to project a position of strength in these economic hard times, not derision and childish inner bickering.

  • Malcolm Garrett RDI November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    “Campbell argues that the RDIs failed to fully engage in the consultation process, claiming that, ‘The point of showing them the drafts was to get their response, but they did not make any suggestions in writing’.”

    There was no consultation ‘process’, that is the point. The RDIs have been calling for a sympathetic exchange of ideas and expertise for some time, feeling quite rightly that many RDIs would have valuable input to matters like this that the RSA concerns itself with from time to time, without any aspect resorting to design by committee.

    But Sean, you are correct, British design does need to project a position of strength, and it is precisely this viewpoint that RDIs, individually and as a body, have been steadfastly trying to impress upon the RSA for at least the last 10 years, certainly since I have been an RDI.

    This is a discussion that has been going on between the RSA and RDIs a lot longer than Emily Campbell has been in this position. That said, I think it is sad that it has erupted in this public way, but perhaps some good may come of it through public discussion, and when more individual opinions have been expressed.

    There is more to this than meets the eye.

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