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STRANGE CARGO

Janice Kirkpatrick

 

Design has been falling in and out of fashion ever since it was first invented. It has continuously failed to build capacity and communicate its worth. Each new generation of designers shoulders the same old evangelical burden, of trying to sell design’s widening and deepening capability to people who know nothing about it or are bored with hearing the same old story. I often think that people no longer believe designers. After all, if something has been so good for so long, why don’t they know about it. In fact, why don’t they teach it at school?But evangelism will not save the design industry. Just because design has existed in the UK for almost three hundred years, doesn’t mean that it will always be there. The UK Design Council has tirelessly petitioned industry and the public to use design for almost fifty years with no great effect. The fact is, that without educating consumers and industrialists, designers will continue to have a limited effect. And now, for the very first time, other countries including Korea, Taiwan and China have recognised the potential of design and invested in policy, industry and education, where we have not. As a result we believe that design’s European heartland is threatened. But even if our number up, will we act?

If the EU does believe that design is vital for its economic competitiveness, it must act to ensure member countries deliver appropriate education, relevant to our fast-moving times, and appropriate for each country and region. Without education, our design industries will deteriorate and we will lose our dominance, some of our economic prosperity and our reputation as the world’s most creative place. This means that we must invest in design education that will produce leading-edge, industry-ready designers and educated clients, investors, industrialists, strategists, politicians, opinion-formers and consumers. We must stop worrying about new competitors and focus on strengthening and modernising our own design industry. In this respect the EU’s greatest asset is perhaps its legendary and globally recognised diversity. For each of our well known and ancient nations has diverse regions with conflicting and colourful cultures. These are rich depositories of information from which designers can draw inspiration and distinctiveness that gives a competitive edge. This is an advantage that our competitors do not yet have.

In order to meet growing and changing economic and social needs we must close the gap between design education and industry which has existed since its invention in the 18th century. Design has never kept pace with the needs of industry and is under more pressure than ever before as we struggle to match the incredible speed of science and technology. And then there’s the increasing demands of consumers. Lord Sainsbury, Science Minister in the UK government said, ‘The UK is facing huge competition in business and intense pressure to deliver quality public services that meet people’s needs and expectations in the 21st century. Our national performance and prosperity will increasingly depend on the creativity and inventiveness of our people to deliver on these. Design is a catalyst that will enable the UK to deliver’. I believe that his words are true, even if they have not yet been followed by concrete action. But the situation of design in the UK has become confused and our age-old problems are compounded by the inclusion of design within the ‘Creative Industries’ sector. This has caused design strategy and education to grind to a halt while we try to understand how to operate within, and support, a diverse industry sector that includes antiques, music and designer fashion, and of which design is a very large industry in its own right, and an invisible component in most other industries within the sector, and many others without.

 

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

 
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