Title: What's in a name?
The case for change
Pages: 38 - 39
Author: Misha Black
Text: What's in a name?
The case for change
Moves are afoot to change the title of Britain's only professional society representing industrial designers. It is a matter of more than parochial interest to the profession. Functions tend to be judged by names - and what the society calls itself will affect its standing in industry and among the public at large. The recent addition of the two words 'and Designers' to the original name - Society of Industrial Artists is a compromise which some members believe does not go nearly far enough in establishing the right image for the profession.
What are the arguments for and against a change? The question is debated here by a past president of the society, who puts the case for a change, and a fellow of the society, who argues from the opposite point of view.
by Misha Black
In August 1951 I wrote an article in the SIA Journal assessing the usefulness of changing the name of the SIA to 'The Society of Designers'. A postal ballot revealed that a large majority of its members preferred 'artiste' to 'designers'. I retreated, surprised and crestfallen.
In 1964 a compromise was reached. The SIA then became 'The Society of Industrial Artists and Designers', retaining MSIA as the professional affix. I was not impressed by the ingenuity of that manoeuvre.
For those members of the society who practise in the fields of engineering or interior design, the artist in the title is an embarrassment who needs to be shrugged off with vague apologies. To be introduced as the artist in the machine shop
[Professor Misha Black]
is as unacceptable as being described as a stylist. That embarrassment we would, however, accept if the artist image were important to our colleagues in other fields of design who are equally members of the society. But is it ?
We do not talk of textile artists or furniture artists or ceramic artists or television artists. In all these categories of membership, 'designer' is the noun qualified by the specialisation. Those who work for publicity or publishing now commonly call themselves graphic designers, and blush if described as commercial artists. The illustrators might conceivably inhabit the border land between art and design, but they also have pressed their claim as communicators, and thus come within the ambit of design. When the SIA publishes its admirable review of selected work of its members, it calls the book Designers in Britain.
It is surprising not that the SIA council is.now vigorously considering what the name of the society shall be, but that it has taken 35 years since the society was founded for this to have achieved some priority.
I have no doubt that the name should be changed as quickly as democratic and legal processes allow. The initials of 'Society of Designers' are uncomplimentary, but the 'Institute of Designers' might serve. 'British' could precede 'Designers' if we are too modest to echo the anonymity of our postage stamps. The most acceptable of the permutations will be decided by the society, but 'artists' I am sure must go and 'designers' assume unqualified ascendancy.
Having said this quite unequivocally, let me add my understanding of the reservations of those who do not share my conviction. The value of the designer to industry resides in his creativity, and 'art' -they argue - is more emotive of aesthetic sensibility and the creative act than 'design'. The fallacy in that argument is the assumption that art and design are necessarily aspects of the same creative function. That I do not believe. If they were, then design would be a lesser art as though technology were diluted science. Art is expressive and dependent on empathy for its appreciation. Design is essentially, directly, overtly communicative. A designer may produce a work of art as a by-product of his problem-solving activity, but his professional concern is to ensure immediate understanding, sympathy for his viewpoint and the desire to possess or use the products which he designs or publicises.
Designers may at times operate as artists, but then they are outside the interest of their professional society - as they themselves would be quick to emphasise.
The concern of the SIA is with design, and its title should make that crystal clear. The philosophical gloss can take care of itself. We do not talk about 'artistic architects' and we do not need to affirm our creativity by adding 'art' to 'industrial design'. Design is an established profession. It no longer needs an artistic apologia.