The Design Council started life in 1944 as the Council of Industrial Design.
It was founded by Hugh Dalton, President of the Board of Trade in the wartime Government, and its objective was 'to promote by all practicable means the improvement of design in the products of British industry'. And that was to stay unaltered through half a century of social, technological and economic change.
The Council of Industrial Design's first director, S C Leslie, played a leading role in the Britain Can Make It exhibition of 1946, but it was Sir Gordon Russell, Leslie's replacement in 1947, who would set the model for the organisation for the next 40 years. He once described the job as 'pushing a tank uphill'.
Defining the blueprint
Russell, who played a key role in the 1951 Festival of Britain, examined ways to reform design education to train the new industrial designers post-war Britain needed. He also took the case for good design over the heads of manufacturers to retailers and consumers. In 1956, the Design Centre (later to include a shop and cafe) was opened to the public in London's Haymarket.
Russell's Council of Industrial Design combined exhibitions with product endorsements, direct services to industry, commercial publishing and retail. It was a model widely imitated around the world, and one later directors would try to modify.
New name, new focus
Sir Paul Reilly (from 1959) brought an increasing emphasis on technology and later engineering design to the organisation's work, triggering a name change in the early 1970s to Design Council. Keith Grant (from 1977) maintained the organisation's high public profile and campaigned to increase visual literacy and design awareness in schools.
But by the 1980s Britain was increasingly design conscious, with high street spending boosting design investment, consumers and retailers seemingly convinced about the merits of good design and industrial designers now part of a growing and increasingly visible design industry.
Ivor Owen (from 1988) switched from public campaigning to focusing on business and education.
Design Council retailing and product endorsement were closed and industrial services were regionalised.
However, by the early 1990s, the Design Council, which had more than 200 staff and an annual Department of Trade and Industry grant of £7.5million, was seen to be out of touch. It was remote from the design community, viewed with indifference by much of industry and isolated politically. New Government plans, such as using Business Links to deliver industrial services including design, threatened its purpose.
On 19 May 1976 the Design Council was awarded its Royal Charter charity status.
The Queen's most excellent Majesty ... and Her Majesty's Most Honorable Privy Council ... refer unto this Committee the humble Petition of the Viscount Caldecote and another, praying for the grant of a Charter of Incorporation to the Design Council ...do this day agree humbly to report ... that a Charter may be granted by Your Majesty in terms of the Draft hereunto annexed Design Council Royal Charter document
From old to new
In 1993, the Government announced a major review of the Design Council's work, led by Design Council member John Sorrell, a practising designer and Co-Chairman of consultancy Newell & Sorrell. In January 1994, he submitted a report, The Future Design Council, known later as The Sorrell Report. It envisaged a small, lean, agile, collaborative think tank organisation with around 40 staff, which would develop and disseminate new knowledge and inspire action, while devoting more resources to activities and initiatives, and far less to fixed costs like salaries and rent.
A new purpose
Out would go commercial publishing, service delivery and revenue-earning activities and in would come advising, influencing and lobbying - and a new purpose: 'to inspire the best use of design by the UK, in the world context, to improve prosperity and well being'.
Sorrell, working, as Chairman, with Andrew Summers - who became the first Design Council Chief Executive in January 1995 - managed what was effectively a relaunch. The organisation focused its communications on business, education and government, introduced a forward-looking, team-working culture and set about forming partnerships with key opinion-leader organisations as a new means of inspiring audiences to use design.
The break with the past was underlined in 1998 by the move from Haymarket to newly designed offices in Bow Street. Several new initiatives were launched, including the annual Design in Business Week and Design in Education Week, both national events, and the change of government in 1997 triggered Creative Britain, which focused on how Britain's design strengths could help to improve the country's global standing.
Later the same year, Prime Minister Tony Blair launched Millennium Products, which by 2000 would identify 1,012 outstanding examples of British design and innovation and communicate the stories behind them in publications, learning materials and web-based case studies.
The initiative also spawned international touring exhibitions which drew nearly 300,000 visitors around the world.
Read more about the Millennium Products initiative and the products awarded this status.
Enabling the use of design
Awareness of design among businesses increased in the late 90s, but it became clear that with awareness came uncertainty about how best to use design. This led to a shift in the Design Council's purpose to include 'enabling', as well as inspiring the use of design.
As well as providing online knowledge and other design resources, the Design Council embarked in 2002 on a series of projects that see designers and other experts working directly with selected businesses, schools and public services organisations to integrate design thinking and methods into their strategies and systems.
Since the appointment of Chief Executive David Kester in May 2003, our work has focused on using the results of these projects to develop national initiatives that will strengthen and support the UK economy. The Design Council is also pioneering new thinking about design-led solutions to social as well as economic problems.