Design Museum

Working from London – respect for design

I’ve long recognised that design and designers get much more respect in the UK. I think there are many factors that have led to this.

For me the demonstration of this was during a recent workshop with a Melbourne based branch of a UK design agency. The CD in Melbourne is an Aussie who worked for the agency in the UK and then moved to Melbourne to set up the Australian branch. The impetus for this was the need to service global brands in Europe and Asia.

The workshop used a Skype connection to two team members in the UK along with two in Melbourne. In trying to unpack some of the issues faced by the Melbourne team we discovered that brand managers at the same level in a global company had diametrically opposed ways of dealing with design and designers. The UK team reported how they were shown respect by the brand manager whilst the local team were treated as suppliers in a procurement process.

Experiencing it first hand

In my first week in London I wanted to try to understand why this happens.

I was already aware that for the past 20 years design has been given a high profile by UK governments of all persuasions. The UK Design Council and the Design Business Association have led the way for design advocacy in Europe.

A visit to the Design Museum showed the result of this advocacy and why designers get respect. We had visited its earlier home across the Thames but they’ve moved to a much larger custom designed space in Kensington.

Cartier and design thinking

One of the light bulb moments occurred in the Cartier in Motion exhibit curated by Norman Foster.

Foster is widely acknowledged as a multidisciplinary designer having designed the Apple Campus in Cupertino and is currently designing most of their Apple stores. He is also designing Bloomberg’s headquarters in London. So I was expecting big things.

The interesting part of the exhibition is Cartier’s use of design thinking. His classic Santos-Dumont watch was the first wristwatch ever designed. It was produced for his friend Alberto Santos Dumont.

Santos-Dumont dedicated himself to aeronautical study and experimentation in Paris. In his early career he designed, built, and flew hot air balloons and early dirigibles, culminating in his winning the 1901 Deutsch de la Meurthe prize for a flight that rounded the Eiffel Tower.

The wristwatch design came about because Santos-Dumont found it distracting to constantly refer to his fob watch whilst flying. Cartier, an avid aviation enthusiast, realised it would be easier for the aviator to simply turn his wrist and look at a wristwatch.

Cartier then turned to another designer for inspiration to design the watch face. That was the urban designer Georges Haussmann. From 1853 to 1859 Haussmann redesigned the city to the grid it is today. Taking the Haussmann model of roads radiating out from the Arc de Triomphe as his inspiration led Cartier to the design of his watch face.

Design is part of the education system

The interesting observation came more from watching and eavesdropping on the other exhibition attendees. I heard a mother of a 14 year old daughter explain how Cartier was a designer who had invented the wristwatch by solving a problem that a pilot had. The 14 year old spoke about the school workshops they are doing in design thinking. I also overheard comments on design thinking from two groups of student teens.

This understanding of design can be attributed to the work that the UK Design Council does in educating school students about design. As they describe in their Ten step guide in how best to run a design workshop in schools.

It’s this type of work that helps generate respect for design and designers.

Take away point

There is no hope our dysfunctional state and federal politicians will take on the promotion of design as the UK governments have done. Australian governments at all levels have missed the boat. The answer is for us in the design community to take up the challenge. We need to develop tools that show that designers add value for businesses.

Greg Branson

Contact Greg Branson if you would like to learn more about the many programs the DBC offers.

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path. Contact Greg.

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