Title: The 'voice of industry' on management and design
Pages: 44 - 45
Author: David Wainwright
Text: The 'voice of industry' on management and design
Interviewed by David Wainwright, John Davies speaks of the need for design to be built into a company and to receive full support and authority from top management.
As director-general of CBI, John Davies can claim to be the voice of British industry. The Confederation of British Industry was formed in 1965 to combine the functions of the British Employers' Confederation, the Federation of British Industries and the National Association of British Manufacturers.
There are 14,000 subscribing companies, and 300 trade associations and employers" federations. Mr Davies, a stocky grey-haired Welshman of 50, and a new member of Council, ColD, speaks for them.
He trained as a chartered accountant, spent the last war in army transport, then went into oil. He resigned as managing director of Shell-Mex and BP a year ago to take his present job.
He is optimistic about the willingness of industry to accept change. "There have been great steps forward," he says. "There is more urge to consider novelty. It is not true, for example, that innovation is feared in the oil industry, which I know best. You will find technological and design advances in refineries, storage installations, even service stations.
"Perhaps the main impulse is to go for the cheapest or most economical solution, then make it look as well as possible. We have been good in this country at developing standards: I agree that it is less easy to establish the machinery for keeping them up to date. We are prepared to design well for basic requirements, but less efficient at designing the periphery.
"You have to realise that as a nation we detest scrapping things. I first came across design problems during the war, when I was involved with the design of landing craft and allied fields of amphibious transport. One came up against the tug of tradition. Naval craft had always been built in a certain way, and there was resentment when a mug of an army officer wanted them built differently - so that the vehicles got on and off easily, and so forth. I remember I wanted a simple electrical switch, and they insisted it must be a great heavy insulated industrial switch, because that was the specified standard. It wasn't necessary.
"I learned then the importance of convincing people personally, rather than writing and drawing at them. This is why models and prototypes are so important- industrial designers are realising this, and architects have known it for years. How many buildings have been sold to committees with models and vividly drawn artists' impressions that are far from scaled representations?"
Mr Davies recognises the importance of presentation. The CBI has adopted international paper sizes, and a switchedon symbol and letterhead. But he is chary of presentation that is not backed by results. "Possibly there's a danger that design interest is exercised on packaging and wrappings today, but too little on the product itself. But I have noticed that bad packaging often goes with a bad product."
Mr Davies was educated at St Edwards School, Oxford, of which he is now a governor. It was, and is, a musical school, but did not between the wars offer any visual training except as part of general cultural syllabuses.
He understands the businessman's hesitation when faced with modern graphic design. The businessman believes, he says, that taste is transitory - you have only to look at women's fashions. By nature, men believe that these things have little duration. So they observe fashion in furniture, and associating it with fashion in clothes, tend to go for a period that has proved its endurance -the end of the eighteenth century.
John Davies's room at the CBI was designed by a woman staff designer whom he took into BP to work on the company's offices. His recruitment of a staff designer derives from his belief that "design should be built into a company. Business in general suspects the competence of people in its own employ when faced with change. Management finds it difficult to believe that subordinates know better than they do. That is only human. So they go to outside consultants for guidance. But then they need people inside to carry out the work."
This was the pattern followed at BP. When a total graphic design policy was required under Mr Davies's management, he went first to advertising agents who had done good work in certain markets. They produced a scheme that, aimed at the markets they knew, was not comprehensive enough for a company with ramifications in every country.
So, as they had used Raymond Loewy's Compagnie de l'Esthetique Industrielle on another, smaller, project, CEI was invited to produce a house style. (Its implementation was described in DESIGN 210/50.) , .
To John Davies, design is a function of top management. But it must be based on intelligent and detailed analysis, and must then be given full management support and authority.