Critically debating the future of design, architecture, and the creative sector

Seven questions we should all be asking

The Creative Industries Federation’s Open letter to the New Prime Minister calls on the Government for its continued support.

Here we offer The Dissenters Design Network’s responses, for much-needed debate about the future value of the creative industries.

Quality of life

Good design has always been valued – more or less – throughout history. But it is only recently that pundits have tried to quantify it, capture and bottle it.

It used to be said that, through the creative expression of a universal, common humanity, art, architecture – good design in general – lifts the spirits. It spoke to a sense of human flourishing.

Nowadays, such idealism is scorned. Instead, the talk is of improving the quality of our inner personal lives, or our individual well-being. Any design that claims to engender health or social benefits is automatically deemed good.

We are often told, for example, that ‘engaging’ with the arts improves one’s sense of well-being. Yet the quality of the art in itself is often ill-considered.

Surely, good design should not just play the role of a comfort blanket, a therapy dog, or meekly regurgitate government policy objectives?

Diversity

Promoting the benefits of diversity has become an orthodoxy, to the extent that it is now regularly mandated that creative industries ensure a larger and more diverse intake of young, female or BAME workers, etc.

Thankfully, such policies often broaden the pool of creative minds, challenge notions of inequality, and open doors that used to be closed.

However – coincidentally – they may tend to elevate identity over merit and hence skew the language and practice of discrimination. Inclusivity sometimes becomes exclusionary. Tolerance of difference seems to morph too easily into an intolerance of those with different opinions.

Indeed, the diversity industry might be closing minds as much as opening them. In this situation, are we challenging old prejudices only to replace them with new?

Resiliance

The idea that the creative industries have value because they are future-proof is premised on the idea that the sector is ‘resilient’ against future shocks, whether real or imagined. Often it leads to risk-aversion and trepidation.

This is not necessarily a good thing for either creatives or creativity. Take automation – all too often seen as a threat to jobs rather than progress in labour saving. We all need to be freed from repetitive, meaningless tasks.

New methods need to be tried, new goals need to be pursued. The experimentation inherent in true creativity runs counter the idea of it being a safe, reliable, predictable field of investment; or one that fears the future.

Imagination cannot be automated. Surely, everything else that can be, should be.

Vital/Non-vital workers

The ideal of the free movement of people is a good one. It needs to be extended to the world, in the spirit of extending the possibilities of individual fulfilment and development.

The best and brightest people should be encouraged and nurtured by the creative industries. But there is a difference between the agency of individual workers and groups, and the anonymising, market-driven necessities of “a workforce”.

The EU and its internal market privilege the movement of talent within 28 countries often at the expense of the rest of the world. Does international talent not deserve equal footing?

Value

The growth of the creative industries seems impressive until it is broken down into its separate fields and compared with the overall economy.

Lumping together such diverse professions as publishing, computer game design, programming, film and TV production, music, radio, museums, and the arts – makes measuring their growth in any proper, comparable sense almost meaningless. Maybe we need to be a little more critical about what the creative industries do, and what they produce.

Furthermore, unlike the overall economy, many creative professionals are individual freelancers or small scale businesses, earning relatively modest incomes. We need to find ways to integrate value-creators into the economy at large.

Investment

The demand that creativity has immediate social worth, together with attempts to directly link funding to economic returns, do an injustice to the creative industries.

Both tend to narrow the scope of the arts and celebrate instrumentalism, whereby demonstrable outcomes (however preposterous) become the precursor for financial or political support.

Surely, individual- or state-funded creativity should exist beyond narrowly defined economic value or the latest, rigidly-mandated social good.

Education

Creativity is not just a set of business competence or technical skills, but relies as much on knowledge, experience and our critical faculties honed over time.

It is learned by widening the purview of the student — from all manner of different fields, subjects and perspectives — to create a rounded yet critical outlook. Students need to learn about and experience the human condition, and be taught how to situate the development of ideas in the context of history.

Clinging to narrowly-defined orthodoxies will only encourage creatives to think in terms of received wisdom and short-term outcomes, rather than producing professionals with genuinely enquiring minds. Take nothing for granted: question everything.

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