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John Mathers reviews Design Council’s 2014 and looks ahead to 2015

John Mathers reviews Design Council’s 2014 and looks ahead to 2015

23 January 2015 Written by By John Mathers Chief Executive, Design Council, 2012-2016

2014 was certainly an exciting, busy year for Design Council. To round it off, on 19 December, we celebrated our 70th anniversary, a momentous occasion for an organisation born out of post-war necessity.

To commemorate seven decades of championing design, we delved into our archive to unearth previously unseen photographs that tell Design Council’s story, from our inception as a post-war industry driver dubbed ‘The Council of Industrial Design’, to our evolving role, continuing to promote design’s importance in stimulating business but also in improving our public services and enhancing cities and places. Follow this link to find out more on our fantastic new timeline.

It was also a big year for some very talented young designers. As part of our anniversary celebrations, we sought out 70 of the finest up-and-coming stars of British design and awarded them the title of ‘Ones to Watch’. The winners’ work will soon be showcased on our site.

In February, our Leading Business by Design Summit was held at the British Museum and was attended by more than 300 business leaders and designers eager to discover more about the connection between good design and corporate success. This summer, hot on the heels of the general election, the Summit will return with a focus on high-value manufacturing. This one-day event will bring together thought-leaders, design innovators and industry giants to learn from each other, forge new relationships and offer a totally fresh perspective on the world of manufacturing.

Last year also saw Design Council sharing its expertise outside of the UK, taking charge of the EU-funded Design for Europe programme. Leading a consortium of 14 partner organisations, we launched this new platform to promote innovation and design in European business, public services and policymaking. We ran 26 events in 19 different cities, meeting almost 2,000 people and bringing together a highly-skilled network of experts and ambassadors in the process.

We will soon be ramping up the case studies and toolkits online and 7 May will see the inaugural Design for Europe Summit in Brussels. I know - it’s the same date as the General Election but, honestly, we had the date fixed first!

Closer to home, we piloted our new cities programme in Oxford and Greenwich. To tackle the challenges modern cities face, we have developed a pioneering system of support combining local knowledge and world-class expertise, aiming to generate infrastructure development, deliver affordable new homes and stimulate local economic growth.

Our work in Oxford didn’t stop there. The Design Leadership Programme helped three new software companies at the University of Oxford’s research commercialisation company, Oxford University Innovation. 

In December’s Science and Innovation Strategy, the government recognised the importance of design in the innovation landscape. One of our main objectives at Design Council is to help the UK’s great technological minds to commercialise and add value to their ideas. Our programme for research bodies has now helped 30% of the UK’s Technology Transfer Offices, and another fascinating piece of research on the role of design in commercialisation is due to be published imminently.

Supporting the business sector through the strategic use of design remains a major focus, and our work strengthening British enterprise will not falter. Our partnership with UKTI will provide expert assistance to companies in improving their operations abroad, and a new programme looking at making supply chains more effective and efficient, which we are piloting in collaboration with Rolls Royce Aerospace, will also be rolled out.

Meanwhile, from April, the business-oriented wing of our highly successful Design Leadership Programme will become part of the Business Growth Service, continuing to help businesses harness the power of design to deliver improvements and drive commercial performance.

Returning to our roots, we kicked off Design Council Spark, a fund to find the UK’s most exciting product innovations. With so much energy - and money - put into the technological innovation market these days, this unique, not-for-profit scheme has been specifically designed to encourage the invention of new physical products. Our open call for applications finished at the end of January 2015.

Design Council has always led the way in encouraging a built environment that is accessible to all. Last summer we assembled the leading minds and voices in the built environment sector to collate the latest guidance and best practice in our Inclusive Environments hub. This innovative digital repository will influence the way places are planned, designed and managed, helping to create a fairer society for us all. We’re aiming to continue to build on that great platform in the year ahead.

One of our most inspiring projects in recent times reached its conclusion in 2014. The Knee High Design Challenge, in partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ charity and the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark, set out to find, fund and support people with new ideas for raising the health and wellbeing of children under five years old. The finalists embedding their products and services include Creative Homes, Kids Connect and Pop up Parks.

In September we held the Active by Design Summit, our response to the devastating social and economic impacts of inactivity. 17% of premature deaths are now caused by inactivity and, if the trend is not halted, it is estimated an extra £19bn will be spent over the next two decades in treating obesity-related illness. We are now working with towns and cities around the UK to make sure our built environment is planned and structured to encourage day-to-day activity.

2015 will see the continued development of our new Design for Care programme. Over the next three to five years it will apply world-renowned design talent in a drive to invent and develop new systems, processes, products and services to create a care system that is more personalised, connected and preventative.

The most significant thing 2014 brought for our industry was the publication of the Creative Industry statistics. The creative sector as a whole is up nearly 10% from last year’s £71.4bn, growing at three times the rate of the wider UK economy - but design itself is growing at double that rate and Britain now has the second largest design sector in the world.

It is both reassuring and uplifting to see the official numbers showing what we know to be true – design remains a key force within the UK’s economy. So it’s good to see design featured so prominently in last year’s creative industries strategy, and also good to see the setup of the Creative Industries Federation under Sir John Sorrell’s leadership. To dive even deeper into these facts and figures, we have commissioned a piece of research to gauge the design industry’s contribution to the economy on a granular scale.

We will be busy in the run up to the election speaking with policymakers from across all parties to ensure they are up to speed with our work and the importance of design, not just for the UK’s economy but for its social and cultural wellbeing, too. In that vein, we look forward to the launch of the Warwick Commission’s report on the value of culture, entitled ‘Enriching Britain, culture, creativity and growth’, on 17 February.

Every quarter, we bring together a cross-section of industry leaders representing the various facets of the design world, from intellectual property to architecture to fashion. This sounding board keeps us plugged in to the latest trends and issues facing the industry, and also gives us feedback on our work. I'd like to thank them for their continued advice and support.

The rich and varied UK design industry is represented by a number of independent bodies, but it is vital for us to shape the future together. Therefore, last year, Design Council set up the Design Industry Roundtable. The value of the meeting was agreed and the plan was that it would be a quarterly meeting hosted by alternating members but organised by Design Council. Through this new collaborative purpose and action, we aim to move design up the UK’s political, social and economic agenda, ensure its position as a lead player in the Creative Industries and increase the widespread recognition of design as a key driver for the growth agenda in the UK.

So, while reflecting on our history and appraising what the team achieved in 2014, we remain focused on the future. 2015 holds many challenges for us, but it also holds much promise. After 70 years, we remain convinced in the power of design to improve people’s lives. Our vision is clear: together we will create a better world through design.

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