Design is the fastest growing sector in the UK’s big success story — the creative industries. Revenue from design activities is growing faster than in advertising, architecture, music or film. And working towards this success has been the Design Council, founded after the Second World War to improve the design of products from British industry.
The Design Council celebrates its 70th anniversary this month with an elite list of 70 UK “ones to watch”. The breadth of talent is astounding.
Sharply on trend is Hannah Sangwin, with striking hand-drawn patterns for monochrome fabrics she will market through her own business. Meanwhile, Oliver Hrubiak has a chair in production at John Lewis.
Marjan Van Aubel’s Current table harvests energy from solar cells — enough to charge a phone (to be shown at the Designs of the Year show from March 25 at the Design Museum).
Some ideas are a tad bizarre, though surprisingly beautiful in execution — bowls made from London dust, anyone? Others are ingenious in the extreme — a kettle you can control to the last drop and degree from an app, a scooter that folds to the size of an A4 piece of paper. They also include architecture — for example, bricks using filled plastic bottles.
Many address social problems and the difficulties of the disabled and/or elderly — a low-cost prosthetic hand, and a “memory box” to comfort patients with dementia. Scroll through the whole list with pictures at www.designcouncil.org.uk — it’s a fascinating read.
The Design Centre opened in the Haymarket, where it stayed until 1994, in the very heart of the West End showcasing top British products. In 1964 came the celebrated “swing tag” — a distinctive black and white triangle awarded for the next 30 years to “good” designs chosen by conscientious committees.
In the Seventies came the name change to the Design Council, which kept a high public profile for the next two decades, even publishing its own magazine. The Design Council kept files on well-designed products, opened a shop, and added a café. Prince Philip was an active patron, awarding a series of his own design prizes.
In the Nineties, the Council changed direction, focusing now on strategy, policy and education rather than on products.
Design Council veteran Sir Kenneth Grange, 85, who designed the Kenwood food mixers, Parker Pens, High Speed trains and the London Taxis, was knighted for services to the design industry in 2013. He won 10 Design Council Awards during the earlier part of a 50-year career and is currently a consultant with Heal’s.
In 2011, the Design Council merged with CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) and is once more in the public eye.
Chief executive John Mathers says: “Now, perhaps more than ever, the Design Council is championing great design — improving lives and making things better.” The Council is fostering communities, improving services, enhancing the environment and helping businesses to grow.
“Ones to Watch” is just one of many imaginative initiatives. “Spark” will shortly award support and up to £65,000 of investment to the best product innovators chosen from hundreds of applications. “Design Summits” are bringing together Britain’s most powerful creatives and enablers. “Active by Design” is combating obesity. “Design for Care” is helping people stay at home longer. And there is much more listed on www.designcouncil.org.uk.