What is the public’s biggest misconception about design?

Design Week is supporting a Policy Connect event that will look at what the media and general public think of design. In advance of this, we ask people in the design industry what they think the public’s biggest misconceptions about design are.

John Mathers

’The biggest misconception the public has about design is that it is mostly about aesthetics – that things looking nice either for superficial reasons of fashion or to make hard-nosed business people add 30 per cent to the price. Design is much more than skin-deep and has a much more complex ways in which it affects us and makes value.’

John Mathers, chief executive, Design Council

Wayne Hemingway

‘That’s its only about determining if spots are the new stripes or if indigo is the new black… dahling. That its about very thin men with white hair and a miniature dog ushering very thin, lanky women, in vertiginous heels along a raised platform That its only for those with lots of money. And that it doesn’t really matter.’

Wayne Hemingway, co-founder, Hemingway Design

Jocelyn Bailey

‘There is a particularly British understanding of design which sees it as superficial or extraordinary, rather than integral to most aspects of the world we live in, therefore as a luxury only the rich can afford. We’re not very democratic about good design in the way that, for example, the Scandinavians are – which is apparent as soon as you step off the plane. Public services and spaces in Denmark impart this sense that, culturally, they believe in a basic level of quality for everyone. We don’t think like that.’

Jocelyn Bailey, manufacturing, design and innovation manager at Policy Connect

Jonathan Sands

‘Whenever somebody asks me in casual conversation “So what do you do for a living Jonathan” and I say “I am a brand design consultant”, they often follow up with “what’s that?” or “is that like advertising?” After 30 years in the design profession even my mother still thinks I work in advertising! The truth is we do not grow up through our schooling years being taught the truths about design, what it is, what the design process involves or its net value to society and businesses bottom line. We are simply not hard-wired as a nation to get it or value it in the same way we do other subjects. Perhaps it is too late for my mum to fully understand what I do but unless we educate our nation that design is something more profound than a subjective aesthetic, then it will be too late for Britain too.’

Jonathan Sands, chairman, Elmwood

Greg Quinton

‘Design used to be the kind of magic that coding is today: something that everyone wished they could do for themselves but few actually could. Today, everybody is a designer (thanks, Apple) so the biggest misconception is about what design work should cost. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing – if anyone can design a logo/presentation/brochure/website from their sofa then why should anyone pay the established design industry prices? Surely our value for money is poor? But of course the democratisation of design has one big problem: Quality.
No matter how many people can do it, there’s still just a limited few who can deliver the standards of creative thinking and execution that add real value and success to business. For those in that group, the pressure is on to keep the magic alive.’

Greg Quinton, executive creative director, The Partners 

Jack Renwick

‘That it takes five minutes to design anything and they could do it better themselves. That it’s like colouring in and getting paid £40 million to do it. Mainly I think it’s that people believe they’re not affected by it. That the clothes they wear, the food they eat and the cars they drive are all decisions they made themselves without being influenced by it. It’s then hard to see any value in something that has no affect on you.’

Jack Renwick, founder, Jack Renwick Studio

Mat Hunter

‘The biggest misconception the public has about design is that it’s simple and easy. The most successful designs – that are memorable, effortless, enjoyable, easy – took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to create. It’s one of the core reasons great design can be under-valued – it’s doesn’t look clever enough.’

Mat Hunter, chief design officer, Design Council

Simon Manchipp

’That anyone can do it, well. There are so many facets to being a good designer. It’s not just a case if being good a drawing. Or knowing typography. Or having flair with colour. Or being imaginative. Or understanding business. Or being a good listener. Or a good speaker. It’s not simply knowing how to plan complex tasks. Or staying calm under pressure. Keeping an overview. Obsessing over details. It’s not just having good contacts. Knowing what to ask for, what to charge for. Or putting in your 10 000 hours before you can call yourself an expert. It’s all of that. And much more. It’s not for everyone. Yet everyone has chosen a chair for their home. Some curtains. Paint for the wall or a new set of glasses. These are design decisions and they flatter people outside of the design profession to think they can do what we do as well as we do it. That’s the biggest time waster in the business. A little knowledge, but little understanding.’

Simon Manchipp, co-founder, SomeOne

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