Do we need a Design Minister?

Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic has called for Universities and Science Minister David Willetts to be given a design brief. 


‘We can’t call for a Design Minister while we still struggle to articulate what design is or why anyone should care. We need to convince people that good design makes communication more effective, unlocks efficiencies, delights and confounds expectations. We need credible voices whispering in the ears of influences, talking articulately in the media, shouting from the rooftops. Instead, our spokesmen (yes, usually men) either run offshore multinationals or fulfill the mad-inventor stereotype (often both), while we’re off, in back-slapping huddles, praising the mavericks and publicising the kooky. Let’s take our industry seriously, maybe then we can demand a seat at the table.’

Michael Smith, director, Cog Design


‘While I agree that Willetts ought to be agitating for a higher profile for design across innovation and industrial policies, if you give sole responsibility for design to one minister, it gives others an excuse not to worry about it. The term “Minister for Design” is too vague – I’m not sure that anyone outside of the design world would understand it. What we need instead is lots of design agitators, across government, creating a more sophisticated design understanding in all policy areas.’

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


‘An active design champion in Government would be good news. Someone who understands how to deploy design for economic growth, promotes Britain’s design talents overseas and fights design’s corner in the procurement debate. However we have a job to do amongst ourselves first. Minister or not, we need to position “design”.  The discipline encompasses a vast range of outputs and practitioners. Without focus we cannot calculate economic value or opportunity: we certainly could not place “design” in one Whitehall department.’

Erika Clegg; Co-founder, Spring


‘I doubt a single “design” portfolio can do justice to the issues. Some sub-sectors, like fashion, are at the heart of a creative industry. Others, like engineering design, have very different foundations. Industrial Design, our sub-sector bridging product, service and interaction has its own issues, usually the challenge of encouraging organisations to employ us creative humanists to innovate in collaboration with their technical or operational specialists. No special favours needed, just a minister, properly briefed on our sub-sector and how we improve innovation.’    

Gus Desbarats, chairman, TheAlloy and British Industrial Design Association


‘I’m always telling my kids the difference between “want” and “need”. So considering that creativity continues to be a significant contributor to the UK economy, what we (the creative industry) absolutely “want” is heavyweight government representation. What we “need” on the other hand, is someone in the seat that believes (as I do) that creative thinking and problem solving should be taught in schools alongside maths and science. What we need, therefore, is to nurture and protect the creative industry from the ground up.’

Spencer Buck, creative director and founder, Taxi Studio


‘Business clusters (industries which have a decisive sustainable competitive advantage) can be key to economic growth – design is one of these for Britain. A Tourism Minister helped us with the Olympics but this was a very focused role. A “Design Minister” would bring a heightened profile to our industry, but let’s be wary of making it a “catch-all” for all design: architecture, broadcast, corporate identity, digital, environments, literature, retail, packaging, product and a whole lot more. Give the industry the profile but make choices to identify where we really are world class and can truly take on the best globally.

Liz Dunning, partner, Dunning Penney Jones

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  • Frank Peters November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The positioning of design poses a fundamental problem when communicating with government. Not only is it an issue of falling between the two camps suggest in the original article (30.10.13) but it also straddles all sectors of industry where it plays an essential role.

    Design is a big word impacting across construction, manufacturing, retailing, food, business, automotive, fashion, digital, etc. It has been positioned within the ‘creative industries’ which in many ways acts as an inhibitor of the role it plays in science, technology and innovation.

    It sits restrained and uncomfortably in Media, Culture and Sport as much as it does in Business, Innovation and Skills, perhaps as much as it would in any sector determined by government. Design is a profession and in common with others such as accountancy and law, it has a remit across and within all sectors.

    These sector issues are compounded when considering design in a wider international context, where government sectors in different developed economies may not be harmonised or in lesser developed economies may not exist at all, often existing as part of a country’s cultural asset.

    Would it be better to re-align design within the UK Business and Professional Services sector together with advertising, legal, accountancy and interestingly enough architectural services? Its aggregate contribution to UK GDP could perhaps be far better identified in this overall context.

    The UK design sector, with the realignment of the Design Council, has lost a direct connection with government and there is no effective design representation at EU level. A Minister for Design may well provide a feel good factor but would the role carry enough resource (in these austere times) for it to effectively champion design within every sector; and would one single country’s ministerial appointment enable greater design representation at EU level or internationally?

  • Clive Grinyer November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    There have been a number of Design Ministers in the past right back to Margaret Thatcher’s government, but few were in post long enough to have much impact. Right now there is a compelling case for design, as the recent Design Commission report into Design in Public Services clearly shows.
    I would prefer a Design Tsar: an energetic, independent knowledgeable leader, working across all government departments, with a mandate from the top to effect measurable change.

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