Chaired by Simon Waterfall and broadcast to 400 online viewers, the debate kicked off with the motion ‘Recessions are good for designers’, with Tom Dixon arguing for and Kingston Smith W1 partner Mandy Merron against.
‘I’ve inherited a canteen and opened a restaurant, which would have been impossible to do three years ago because of property prices,’ said Dixon.
Merron countered, ‘The shape of the curve for the productivity of creative businesses is almost identical to the shape of the curve for the national economy.’
She won the motion with 60 per cent of the audience’s vote.
Next up for discussion was the motion ‘Networks are fine, but they won’t keep me in business’.
Preddy argued that marketing and good client relationships are the keys to business success, while Small Back Room’s Callum Lumsden fought back with figures from his own business.
He said, ‘My business began 15 years ago on the back of a networking introduction to my first client, which, in the space of two years, generated an income for me of £100 000. Networking accounted for 40 per cent of my business in the first five years, equating to £6.4m.’
Lumsden won with 59 per cent of the vote.
Finally, Dempsey argued for, and Brian Webb argued against the motion that ‘Tighter finances mean more on-the-job training, and that’s a good thing’.
‘I had no formal design training, just one O-level in art,’ said Dempsey. ‘The pre-requisite for every designer is imagination, which you cannot learn. The designer should not be spoon-fed.’
Webb said, ‘We’re deluding ourselves if we think a bit of over-the-shoulder training is the way to do it.’ Comparing freelance designers with racehorses, he added, ‘They are great when they are well-trained and winning, but when they stop training they are off to the knacker’s yard.’
Webb won the motion with 54 per cent of the audience’s vote.
The debate, which took place at the Royal Society of Arts, was thrown to mark the publication of the Design Council’s five-year research study, Design Industry Insights, Comments and Conversations on the Business of Design in the UK.