Let’s form a committee…

Image by clagnut via Flickr
Most design committees are a recipe for disaster or inactivity, says Mike Dempsey, so what should we expect from the Mayor of London’s recently unveiled Design Advisory Panel? Well, with no graphic, digital or motion designers on board, the early signs aren’t looking that good…


Image by clagnut via Flickr

Most design committees are a recipe for disaster or inactivity, says Mike Dempsey, so what should we expect from the Mayor of London’s recently unveiled Design Advisory Panel? Well, with no graphic, digital or motion designers on board, the early signs aren’t looking that good…

“I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of Committees.” So said GK
Chesterton. I once sat on a committee writes Mike Dempsey. We met weekly and nothing ever got done.

In the wake of Boris Johnson scrapping the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Advisory Panel, I was fasci­n­ated to read about his new Design Advisory Panel (com­mittee by any other name) headed by Lord Rogers – no surprises there, he was part of Ken Livingstone’s earlier group.

Along with Rogers is fellow archi­tect Sunand Passad and Joyce Bridges – with wide experience in urban policy, and chair of yet another committee for English Heritage. Lastly Roger Madelin, CEO of property developers, Argent Group PLC. With this group the term ‘design’ is very much archi­tecturally centric. No seeming interest in the wisdom of the digital, graphic, product, motion or engineering communities – important ingredi­ents in the design of our daily life.

Introducing the panel, Johnson said “Great design has been the hallmark our great city from our historic palaces and squares to our modern offices.” He clearly views design as the built environment too. Are the other components seen as mere decoration?

Keen to know what former London Mayor Ken Livingstone had achieved with his panel, I phoned the Mayor’s office. A woman from the ‘cultural desk’ – visions of a Ron Arad construc­tion come to mind – came on the line. I posed a flurry of questions, two of which seemed a little taxing.

Q: “Could you give me examples of some the achieve­ments of Mayor Livingstone’s earlier panel?”

A: “Er well, that was before my time, I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Q: “I understand that Boris Johnson is very keen on design?”

A: “Oh yes, he is very keen.”

Q: “Well, I can’t recall any evidence of his passion for design prior to becoming Mayor. Could you perhaps give me a few examples?”

A: “Er – not off the top of my head – um, I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

I’m still waiting.

It would seem the MofL is the fount of all committees; casino, walking, surface, fraud, refugee etc etc, the list goes on. To complicate matters more, this new Design Advisory Panel will feed into the Design Advisory Forum and will be managed by Design for London, which now sits within the London Development Agency’s Design, Development and Environment Division. Got that? I would hate to be responsible for all the tea and biscuits for that lot.

Most design committees are a recipe for disaster or inactivity, mainly due to not having an over­arching design supremo with an in-depth understanding of all design disciplines. These are rare animals, but when they are allowed to function things really blossom.

Last month saw the death of the great American designer Lou Dorfsman who presided over all things designed at CBS television for 40 years. He was a master in under­stand­ing how creativity, care and consistency can make for a powerful design statement.

We have witnessed the disasters when committees self-destruct under the strain of egos and inter­ference, the Millennium Dome being the prime example, and I have my fears for the Olympics design strategy. So far we have had the embarrassment of the logo, and its accompanying illegible and non-inclusive font, both universally loathed by the design community, but held up by Lord Coe as a shining example of creativity aimed squarely at the hip young.

So, I will be following the progress of Boris Johnson’s illus­trious committee over the coming year, in the hope that when I next speak to my contact sitting behind her MofL cultural desk, she will have a stream of achievements to report, and that designers from a wider range of disciplines will have been invited for tea and biscuits.

Mike Dempsey’s blog is at mikedempsey.typepad.com. This piece appears in the Crit section of January’s CR

  • At least it is keeping the unemployment numbers down with their rich tapestry of hierarchy. Perhaps they should look at Lloyds building and give some transparency to what exactly is going on, rather than looking like they are just creating jobs for the sake of it, and not taking the piss.

  • Did you really expect Boris to treat anything seriously?

    He’s a right-wing journalist from a rubbish right-wing rag who also happens to be the Conservatives favourite political buffoon.

    Whilst the Standard’s pack of ‘journalists’ bayed blood and a multitude of voices complained about Ken these same people are strangely silent as the new Tory boy staggers from near disaster to disaster. Trust me it can only get worse.

    Unfortunately we are now all coming to the realisation that the emperor has very little clothing on and the joke’s on us. Sadly it’s all a little bit too little, too late.

    Me? If Ken stands again, and I hope he does, I know which way I’ll be voting.

  • The new Design Advisory Panel…With no great mix of designers on board, the signs are not promising at all.

    God help you!

  • So let me get this straight… Boris is setting up lots of committees on all sorts of issues. “[…]casino, walking, surface, fraud, refugee[…]”

    But scraps the LGBT committee and wants to take the Rise festival away from being able fighting racism.

    I bet some people thought it was just a bit of banter to pop their vote number one or two into Boris’ box.

    At least we know Boris is true to his demographic. Why are we surprised he does those things, he is, after all, a Tory.