Do we need a Minister for Design?

Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic has reignited the debate about design’s representation in Parliament by calling for a Minister for Design, who would advocate for the sector.


Source: Michael D Beckwith

Sudjic has called for Science and Universities Minister David Willetts (dubbed ‘two-brains due to his intelligence) to take on the extended role, which would see him, for example, advocate the role of design in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

Calls for a Minister of Design come around fairly regularly, with many advocates referring back to the 1980s example of John Butcher, who took on a design brief in Margaret Thatcher’s administration and sat in her Cabinet as a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry.

Other ‘Design Ministers’ have included former rally driver Baroness Denton, who triggered Sir John Sorrell’s reshaping of the Design Council in 1994.

More recently, responsibility for design at Government level has fallen between Willetts – who is obviously engaged enough with the sector to have attended the Design Museum/Science Museum debate that led to Sudjic’s calls – his boss Business Secretary Vince Cable, and Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, meanwhile, is regularly spotted on the design circuit, at events such as the London Design Festival, and the Design Council – still the industry’s most obvious conduit to Government – has developed links with a variety of different departments, from Communities and Local Government to Health.

And design has flourished even in the unlikely environment of the Cabinet Office, which operates the D&AD Award-winning Government Digital Service.

So would it be better, as Sudjic suggests, to replace all these points of contact with a single minister?

The obvious advantages of this would be of efficiency – with all design-related policy going through one minister – and improved effectiveness – one person with a design brief would be able to lobby more productively at the heart of Government.

But there are potential downsides. Where would that minister sit? If, as suggested, Willetts takes up the role, then would he be looking at design through a science/education lens, and ignoring the great work it can do in other areas?

And how could we know that any Design Minister could adequately represent and speak for the sector? Just because you have a minister representing your job doesn’t mean they will necessarily lobby in your favour – just ask any teacher what they think of Education Secretary Michael Gove…

A deeper issue, and one I have written about before, is for the design industry to find the right way to define itself and communicate to Government.

Design Week has been working with the Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group and PR strategist Yvonne Courtney to investigate these issues, and a paper is coming soon, examining the question in more detail.

What is clear that, Design Minister or no Design Minister, there’s certainly work to be done to link the Government more closely to the design world.

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