Design Council prepares for new charity status

Design Council chief executive David Kester says the decision to turn the organisation into a charity means the way it carries out its functions will be ’very different’.

Last week the Government unveiled plans to strip the Design Council of its status as a non-departmental Government body and turn it into an independent charity.

These plans are in line with recommendations set out in Martin Temple’s review of the organisation and would see the Design Council take a role as a ’facilitator’ of design, rather than a ’provider’.

Temple’s review also suggests that Government funding to the Design Council should be reduced from £5.4m to £4m and that staffing levels should be cut by half from the current level of 60. It also proposes that the Design Council should leave its current offices in London’s Covent Garden and move in with the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. A move to the Design Museum’s planned new premises in Kensington is also mooted.

Kester (pictured) says the Design Council and current sponsor body the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills are working to implement the new operational plan by 1 April 2011. He says, ’The review sets out the principles. The details have yet to be sorted out.’

Kester adds, ’We won’t be able to do everything we currently do, but are looking at change. We will be leaner, but by commissioning out we can do more – it’s a Big Society message.’

Gus Desbarats, chairman of British Design Innovation, says, ’[This] will be a step towards what the UK’s industrial and service designers want/ a lean, effective Design Council focused on growing demand in challenging markets like small and medium-sized enterprises and the public sector, but leaving delivery to us industry practitioners.’

Clive Grinyer, director of customer experience at Cisco and former director of design and innovation at the Design Council, says, ’On first impressions it doesn’t look so bad. But I think the reality is that the Design Council has been radically reduced in power and influence.’

The fate of other quangos
Nesta – to become an independent charity
Regional development agencies – to be abolished, with retained functions transferred to central/local government
Technology Strategy Board – to be retained
UK Trade & Investment – to be retained
Central Office of Information – its future under consideration pending a review of Government advertising to be finalised by the end of November
British Council – to be retained

Further reaction to the Design Council review from key industry figures:

Richard Eisermann, founder of Prospect and former director of design and innovation at the Design Council

As a former director of design and innovation at the Design Council, I am very heartened to see that is has survived the Chancellor’s spending review and willcontinue to operate, albeit in downsized form. The reduced footprint and budget should not prevent it from extending its reach, however. The Design Council’s use of digital media must become more focused and more clever in order to grow the value it provides, not only to the design industry of the UK, but worldwide.
The Design Council brand is highly regarded as an informed voice of design authority in many countries – before I came to the UK I would refer to its website on a regular basis for the latest and greatest information on design. So would many of my colleagues, both in Europe and in the United States. Since my days at the Design Council, it has had its digital ups and downs, and has relaunched a much improved site fairly recently, adding a presence on the ‘holy social trinity’ of Facebook, Linked In and Twitter. All to the good, but the Design Council now needs to attain the next level in making its content relevant and buzzworthy.
How is it going to do that? By reaching out to a constituency that is tough to attract and even tougher to hold on to: designers, who it traditionally has had difficulty in attracting. One of the ironies of the Design Council is that it historically has had difficulty in connecting with the very sector it is seeking to promote. Certainly there has been a raft of designers involved with the Design Council, but I’d dare say the majority of designers do not find it particularly relevant. If, as the BISreviewstates, there are 232 000 designers practising in the UK today, then a scant 0.17 per cent of them were invited to participate in the online survey – and 300 invites, however ‘strategic’ they may be, does not constitute a lot of engagement. If one does not ask, one does not get. It is time for the Design Council, as Martin Temple’s review suggests to ‘consult and ensure transparency in all dealings with the design sector’. I couldn’t agree more. I’m hoping that the gentle de-coupling of the Design Council from Government will bring it renewed energy to excite and inspire designers.

Clive Grinyer, director of customer experience at Cisco, and former director of design and innovation at the Design Council

On first impressions, it doesn’t look so bad – it’s allowed to continue to exist, and there’s a report that highlights the Design Council’s successes and good return on investment. The loss of non-departmental Government body (not quango, please) status seems okay, given the close relationship still promised with BIS and other departments. So, just a bit leaner and smaller and more focused.

But I think the reality is that the Design Council has been radically reduced in power and influence, and has lost the ability to roll up it’s sleeves and makes things happen. Here’s why:

We have to look at the wider context to see how many of it’s highly successful channels have been damaged or removed as well. The two great successes in the past ten years have been the rolling out of Designing Demand programme across the nation through the network of regional development agencies and its role in developing exciting, tangible, innovative solution-busting projects with funding directly from Government departments covering areas such as health, education and crime. These have created proof points and achieved real behaviour change.

But the RDAs have gone and Designing Demand is being closed down around the country. Projects from Government departments are not going to be funded, no matter the successes so far.

The new Design Council is positioned in the report as a charity that will advise more, but do less. As an organisation that was inexpensive and punched massively above it’s weight, I fear it will be a shadow of its former self. It will even have to lose its building, which serves as an excellent living example of how design affects how we work, collaborate and share knowledge. Countless organisations hold their events there and come away thinking differently – the building is an important part of the interaction with the Design Council.

In a leaner, cut-down Government, I could see a case for an expanded, more active Design Council, but that consideration was never on the table. There are some good points in the report which the Design Council has said it will act on, and I hope it does create a more robust understanding and relationship with the design community, which seems to want it to be some sort of campaigning force for the industry, but forget that it was always set up for businesses to help them succeed, and latterly the public sector, too.

I believe the Design Council will rally and be very creative and determined to succeed, but I remain hugely disappointed at the report and the Government’s inability to see the bigger picture. Design helps business and the public sector be more successful. Our global competitors copy the Design Council and place design high on their strategies for success, just as we are lowering it in ours. I fear the Design Council, whose funding level was relatively small but used to such great effect, will be whittled away, possibly to the point of invisibility.

The head of an international design organisation e-mailed this week to say that this was bad for the whole world. That may seem over the top but I don’t think it is – the UK’s history, its creative excellence and the pushing of the very nature of design that the Design Council represents and evangelises is seen as being weakened, and the ripples are felt further than Bow Street or Whitehall.

Peter Spence, director, South Coast Design Forum

I view the changes positively. I think the Design Council will have a much rosier future free of Government shackles and the whims of politicians. The opportunity is there for high-profile figures in the industry to draw interested parties together and show some leadership. The Design Council has had its critics, so let them come forward with suggestions for the future.

It is encouraging, from a regional perspective, that the value of bodies such as the South Coast Design Forum are recognised in the Martin Temple report and that the Design Council has the development of the regional design community on its agenda.

Frank Peters, chief executive, Chartered Society of Designers

The Chartered Society of Designers welcomes the review by Martin Temple, which sets out very clearly the manner in which the Design Council currently operates and its intentions. From the five options considered, it is evident, in balancing the few disadvantages listed against the many listed advantages, that option four  – ‘that the Design Council should become a “not for profit” charitable organisation’ – should be the proposed way forward.
Of course, this is only the preferred option and we need to await the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review to see whether the funding will be available to facilitate this transition, and whether Privy Council approval for the Royal Charter changes is forthcoming. The evidence as presented in the review should go a long way to ensuring that these two hurdles are surmounted.
When this transition is confirmed the CSD will welcome the Design Council to the Third Sector, which will then see the design industry represented by two charitable design bodies both with a Royal Charter, albeit both with different remits.
While there is still a lot to consider about the report – its content, the proposed operation of the newly formed charity and the existing trading entity, the evidence provided and the review itself – I feel the design sector has now got a proposal it deserves.
We especially welcome the acknowledgements in the review by the Design Council that it should address areas which are giving rise to concerns within the sector and with its partners such as: conflict of interest, competition with the design industry, exclusion, London-centricity, communication, sharing success, transparency and less spin about the Design Council’s role.
The 86-page review provides a convincing argument for the continuance of the Design Council.

Gus Desbarats, chairman, British Design Innovation

After reading the report and sharing impressions with my board colleagues, we are satisfied the main messages contained in our White Paper review submission have got through.

If BIS accepts the findings it will be a step in the right direction towards what the UK’s industrial/service designers want: a lean, effective Design Council focused on growing demand in challenging markets like small to medium-sized enterprises and the public Sector, but leaving delivery to us industry practitioners.

We especially welcome the focus on ‘being inclusive’ and ‘working with the other national bodies’ like the Technology Strategy Board and, we assume, the national design bodies like ourselves and the Design Business Association. 

Beyond that, the text is somewhat open to interpretation, and, as every good designer knows, ‘the outcome is in the detail’, but at British Design Innovation, at this time, we are taking the ‘glass half-full’ view.

In a recent speech to the TSB Innovate Ten conference, the Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts made it clear that he expects the nation’s community of industrial/service designers to be in the vanguard of both the coalition Government’s strategic shift towards investment and innovation-led economic growth and its aim of a productivity revolution in public services.

As the specialist national trade body for this vanguard community, our members relish the challenge, and so we look forward to deeper collaboration with the Design Council on working towards our many common goals.

Shame about losing the Bow Street building, though – that could have been put to better use as a meeting place for the design community, along the same lines as the Royal Institute of British Architects building.

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  • Richard Eisermann November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The Design Council has done some fantastic work to raise awareness of design and design thinking within Government and industries which would commission design. However, its third set of stakeholders – the design practitioners – have not been sufficiently involved in and made aware of the Design Council’s direction in the past.

    Although Martin Temple calls for the Design Council to “Consult and ensure transparency in all dealings with the design sector,” it seems old habits die hard.

    The Design Council today sent an email to everyone on their list to clarify what will be happening as the dust settles. It proclaimed “Major changes in the way we work,” and “A new and exciting vision and operational plan for our future.” All on the right track, but then it holds the design fraternity at arm’s length by ending with “…which we’ll share with you in due course.”

    Any designer worth their salt will tell you that you must research the needs of users and include them early in the process to mitigate risk and build a more informed solution. ‘Due course’, therefore, would be ‘now’. The Design Council should not re-design itself without tapping the 232,000 opinions and creative stakeholders available to it, as well as its ‘users’ in industry and government too.

    Steve Lee, Prospect

  • Maxine Horn November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Yes, you would think so wouldn’t you Steve particularly if the first principle of good design is to put yourself in the shoes of the customer/user

    However, I wonder whether we have this wrong as Clive Grinyer points out – the Design Councils focus and role is to promote best use of design to industry.
    It is not a design representative body or activist voice of the design sector.

    So its a balancing act between the way in which input and content is gained from the Design sector and how that imput is credited in the materials used to promote design to industry.

    Achieving the right balance could enable the right engagemernt between the parties, without it, at times, appearing to be all give and no gain.

    Equally, it might make the role of the DC clearer to the design sector and remove their expectation of representation.

    Whatever transpires it will certainly be interesting – with a reduced budget the DC need the support of the design sector more than ever in a shared role to keep the promotion of design to industry high.

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