The 'seventies could be ours
by Paul Reilly Director, ColD
The International Design Congress to be organised by the Council of Industrial Design in London on the twelfth and thirteenth of this month will, like its three predecessors in 1951, 1956 and 1961, stick strictly to practical issues of good business management. Speakers from many industries and several countries will share with a mainly British audience their experiences in putting design profitably to work.
But the congress will have the further theme that in an epoch of swiftly developing technology no business manager and no designer can afford to wait upon events; each must look ahead, if possible to the very frontiers of science, to recognise his opportunities, since technology, management and design are the three inescapable ingredients for keeping a firm, an industry or a country ahead of its competitors.
And how is Britain faring in this race ? For all the hard things that DESIGN magazine and the ColD have had to say and will continue to say about the more commonplace, conventional, insensitive, lethargic manifestations of British industry, there are today few countries in the world with more promise around the corner. The ColD was neither naive nor over-optimistic in the claim published last month in its twenty-first annual report that, given proper awareness by British managers, the nineteen seventies could well become the decade of British ascendancy in design -for let us not underestimate our potential.
We have several inestimable assets in the race for design. We combine the longest history of industrial experience with the greatest need for fresh incentive.
We have an outstanding record of scientific invention. We have in the Ministry of Technology a long awaited agency for stimulating present application and forward planning of technological innovation; and we have a Minister of Technology with a keen interest in marrying design to technical progress.
We have a well organised, nation-wide system for training designers for industry, and in the Royal College of Art we have as dynamic and as thoroughly equipped an academy as any in the world. We have too the most experienced of all national institutions for promoting an interest in design.
Our industries moreover are seriously, if tardily, facing up to the need for rationalisation and for concentration of productive effort into stronger, more viable units; while, in step with this economic commonsense, manufacturers and designers are progressively lifting design out of the realm of intuition and I guesswork and subjecting it to rational analysis and systematic method.
If we couple such solid factors with the acknowledged vitality of our more ephemeral creations, whether in fashion or graphics or display, we can surely take confidence that Britain is on the brink of real achievement in industrial design. The 'seventies could indeed be ours - but only if three things happen.
First, industry must lift design from the back room to the board room; every company must accept that design is a key question for top management, not something to be considered down the line or left to the distaff side at weekends. Second, designers must become infinitely more businesslike in their attitudes to industry; they must be every bit as interested in the commercial success of their designs as are their sales directors, since industrial designs without sales are like stamps without gum - they end up on the floor. Third, the Government must greatly step up its public patronage of good design since there is still an immense educational job to be done at home in promoting standards of design that Britain can with pride project abroad.