Saturday, March 27, 2010

Design Wales hosts live web debate on design

On Friday 26th March, Design Wales hosted a viewing of the live Design Council web-cast ‘Design beyond the recession: For better or for worse?’. The event debated three motions before a live audience in London and wider on-line community - totalling more than 600 people - were able to submit their votes.

David Kester (Design Council Chief Executive) introduced the event and Ursula Davies (Research Manager) presented the latest statistics from the UK design industry survey. According to the research, there are 232,000 designers in the UK. 28% of them are freelance (up 39% from 2005) while those in design consultancies and in-house teams each represent 36%. Since 2005, around 40% of consultancies and freelancers report increasing their fee rates compared with 40% who have registered no change. The survey also revealed that only one in ten designers is a member of a regional design network.

The debate centred on three motions:
1. Recessions are good news in disguise for designers
2. Networks are fine but they won’t keep me in business
3. Tighter finances mean more on the job learning and that’s a good thing

While the debates were lively and informative they were ultimately inconclusive as the delegates and spectators agreed that in each case it was not a question of ‘either or’ but ‘a bit of both’. For example, while the necessities of a recession can lead to innovations, at the end of the day design firms need to balance the books and the figures are often stacked against them. Similarly, while networking and regional design networks can create excellent opportunities for meeting new clients and generating new business, all the fundamental business principles still apply and designers need to sell themselves. Again, in the case of training versus on the job learning, participants agreed that a delicate balance between the two was optimal.

With regards to the second motion, Design Wales was able to submit an online question, which was taken up by the panel: If regional design networks are so great, why are only 10% of UK designers members of one? Is it the cost of membership, value for money, lack of awareness of the networks or the quality of the networks on offer? The issue of regional design networks is one that is currently being examined by both Design Wales and the Design Council. Design Wales is in the process of launching a new forum for Wales while the Design Council is trying to identify the priorities for designers in regional networks across the UK.

For each of the three motions, the distribution of the combined votes from the live and remote audiences was approximately 40% for and 60% against. Nevertheless the event was a success. Although the phrasing of the motions came under criticism from the audience in Wales, the concept behind a live design debate across the UK bringing the diverse design disciplines into an animated discussion was a valuable exercise and one which all involved would like to see take place again.

The full report 'Design Industry Research 2010', including a factsheet on Design Businesses in Wales, can be downloaded from here.

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