What do the architecture and design community wish for?

Earlier this year during Clerkenwell Design Week we unveiled a unique collaboration with Acrylicize called Workflow; a stunning piece of public art in the form of a Multidrawer fountain. As part of the event we invited visitors from the architectural and design community to make a wish for the future of their industry. Giant coins were provided, onto which participants could write their wish before metaphorically throwing them into the fountain.

As the thriving design community in London comes to the fore once again during the London Design Festival from 17 to 25 September, perhaps the time has come to reflect again on the wishes made? We asked John Fogarty, our recently retired Director of Design, for his personal take on them...

In essence the wishes fall into four broad categories:
 - The need for greater sustainability
 - Lack of recognition for designers (despite London/the UK being a Mecca for design)
 - Better opportunities for young designers 
 - Good design needing to be inclusive and affordable

What is most interesting to those of us perhaps a little longer in the tooth than the average wish-maker is that there absolutely nothing new here. Every single issue has been around for at least my entire working career. 

Over-consumption and its negative effect on the planet was first raised by Vance Packard in his seminal 1960 work The Waste Makers, and yet we - as the profession perhaps best placed to do something about it - have singly failed to address the issue to any meaningful degree. If we genuinely want to make a difference we have to become active practitioners of re-configurable and re-manufacturable design – not just prosletisers to the cause. 

As individuals we also have to buy the best we can afford and keep it for longer.  Next time your mobile phone provider offers you a “free” upgrade, think what “free” actually means (it’s certainly not impact-free). Better still buy the phone you truly like and keep it for a long a possible, get a SIM-only contract and enjoy the feeling of being truly “green” while saving yourself a fortune.

As far as greater recognition is concerned; all skilled professionals feel undervalued, just ask the Teachers and Junior Doctors. At the risk of sounding like the worst kind of brown rice 60s hippie idealist, I’m afraid that I believe that recognition of true worth can only come from within. 

With regard to better opportunities for young designers: Given the massive growth in university education it is inevitable that as a nation we over-train in all the professions. It’s a form of natural selection that not all those trained will end up being able to pursue the career of their choice. The alternative is some form of North Korean centralised planning in education and - quite frankly - who wants that? In terms of maximising employability potential there really is no alternative to working hard, participating in every possible industry-sponsored design competition while studying and then getting your name out there as widely as possible once you’ve graduated. 

Becoming a designer-maker is another route to follow.  James Dyson is deservedly Britain’s best-known product designer. In the 1980s, unable to find a manufacturer for his revolutionary dual cyclone based vacuum cleaner, he started to make it himself. With the brand now being the biggest in the US (importantly by value, not volume), the rest as they say is history. 

When it comes to the call for good design to be inclusive and affordable, I would contend that it already is. When globalisation has already driven mass manufacturing of brand-leading products to the lowest wage regions and credit being as cheap as chips, I for one struggle to imagine a world where things can get any more affordable. The problem is that we can’t seem to make this economic model work with full employment in the West. One for the politicians and economists (not for us humble designers) to resolve? 

All this conspicuous consumption also flies squarely in the face of our declared desire to be “greener”. Can’t be both I’m afraid? 

As the design community comes together in London once again at this month’s London Design Festival we’re keen to continue to explore these themes.  Do you agree with John? Have ideas or approaches as to how we can ‘fix’ these issues? Or do you wish for something completely different for the design industry?  Let us know by commenting here or by Tweeting us @wearebisley using #designwishes