Last week, the lovely people at the Design Council invited me to their 2012 Design Council Summit. The unusual range of people who spoke made for an interesting day – it’s not often you get people at the intersection of manufacturing, government, entrepreneurship, advertising and design all in one place.
The venue was gorgeous: the Foster + Partners-designed City Hall in More London has caught my eye any time I’m in the area, and added that extra sense of gravity to the day’s discussions, in a good way.
I’m going to pick out the big themes that stood out for me:
1. The impact of British design is bigger than we give it credit for. It’s isn’t overly nationalistic or narrow, as Vince Cable said. Jaguar is technically owned by Indians (the Tatas) but as design goes, they’ve learnt a lot from us. The UK also has quite a few globally important industries: the ship-building industry is big in Twickenham, of all places, Speedo, another British company and the world’s largest swimwear company, utilises a unique combination of acute business management, sleek design, and physics (fluid dynamics), and the UK’s Rolls-Royce is one of the top 3 producers of jet engines in the world, the other two being American companies. Sara Murray of Buddi also said that based on her travels, there’s a lot of respect for British goods across the world compared to those made in the East.
2. Design is not just about personalisation but economic value, as Professor John Kay, Financial Times columnist and London School of Economics academic said. There is therefore a strong economic argument for good design: a Savile Row suit may cost a 100 times that of one at Asda but it adds a lot to aesthetics as well as the economy. I really liked what he said about economic growth being linked to human ingenuity, and therefore not a thing that can be controlled because human ingenuity is limitless.
3. Education plays a key role in encouraging good design, and Britain is much better than the East at this as things currently stand. I absolutely agreed with this: the education system in many countries in the East, including India and China, is still very much geared towards producing thinkers who are good at obeying instructions but not necessarily capable of stellar creative thought. The large numbers of students who come from abroad to study here is some proof of that, and we need to find ways to keep the best here rather than send them back.
4. Failure can teach progress, and we need to acknowledge this as a society more. Sara Murray mentioned an award in Singapore that rewarded failure that begets the most amount of learning. This is something else I really believe: not enough people share their failures (versus success). It is absolutely OK to fail as long as you learn from it and get back up on your feet again. The biggest successes in the world are the result of multiple failures: Odeo became Twitter, Angry Birds came after 51 failed attempts to build a successful game, and so on.
5. The benefits of collaboration. Jane ni Dhulchaointi from Sugru said that being part of a group can bring you more visibility than you would get trying to break through into a market by yourself. Sometimes it’s better NOT to be a Lone Ranger.
6. The importance of brand advocates. Nicola Mendelsohn, IPA President and Executive Chairwoman of Karmarama was gently corrected by a panellist when she paraphrased his words as ‘startups need advertising’ – they don’t need advertising but advocates, is what she was told. I started my career as a Nike ambassador, what they call an Ekin, and I often feel bad for small startups with brilliant products that could absolutely benefit from an evangelist similar to that role. It’s why even Google has a Digital Marketing Evangelist like Avinash Kaushik on board.
7. The importance of design as a founding principle of a business rather than an afterthought. This goes back to what is often said about teams needing to work together rather than in silos. ‘Design’ isn’t something you add on as an afterthought, nor are designers the people you bring in to make things look pretty at the fag end. Design is a way of thinking, it is integral to building a product, experience or brand that is responsive to its environment and most likely to be successful. As I tweeted from the event:
The lovely Scriberians were capturing the day with their handiwork as well.
You can also look at the Design Council’s own coverage here. A big thank you to Kati Price, Amanda Gore and team for having me along.
All in all, a thought-provoking day. The day ended with a reception on the 9th floor of the building, from where the view was superb. Next year, need I say – go!!!