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

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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.

News and comment

Our views of what's going on and how to make sense of it.

If something catches your eye, do tell us and we'll include it in our next round-up.

November news

Bawaba — Anti-Manspreading Chair Was Supposed to Be a Genius Solution. Instead People Are Rebelling Against It Al

What was lauded as an award-winning feminist design to keep men’s legs closed when seated (and another seat that pushes women’s legs apart) has become ridiculed online. Designer Laila Laurel said she was motivated because men were “infringing on [her] space in public”. But others commented the seats unfairly shame how anyone chooses to sit. Apart from stigmatising men, it makes children of us all, of how we negotiate our pubic spaces.

Nesta — How evidence should guide manifesto promises on the Creative Industries

With the General Election looming large, Creative Industry researchers NESTA argue that the UK Parliament risks ignoring the sector’s well-established economic potential moving forward. Citing concerns that businesses are contracting, the majority of whom are in London and the South-East, with skilled vacancies unfilled. Where evidence is needed of how to integrate the creative industries into the broader economy, rather than arguing for its uniqueness. Up until now, that has often been the focus of any ‘evidence’ used to justify the sector.

Architects’ Journal — Modular design should be on architects’ syllabus, says government tsar

With continued severe UK housing shortage, more needs to be done to invent innovative building methods. Mark Farmer, the new government tsar for modern methods of construction (MMC) rightly argues that architects should welcome this as an opportunity, liberating them from monotonous work, with ‘more time to work on the more creative aspects of design’. With more manufacturing options to explore, creativity will be in short supply to keep up. But more importantly, why has it taken so long to even get to this point, with dwindling housing stock being a decades-old problem?

Eye Magazine — Blog | (Typographic) Noted #95

Throughout November, the Centro Cultural Recoleta, Buenos Aires will drape a huge banner, covering its façade, with the words ‘SOY YO’ (‘It’s me’). Using the colours of the ‘Pride’ flag, designer Guille Vizzari says ‘I am what I choose to be today. It’s me. Soy yo.’ This is now standard practice. The ever-expanding and elastic question of gender is every national and international institution and corporation’s favourite brand extension. It is an ideological imposition dressed as a moral good. Once radical, now mainstream elitism.

Dezeen — Patrik Schumacher and Harriet Harriss clash over long-hours culture at Dezeen Day

In a heated debate, Schumacher argued capping hours worked will cause a slow-down, stagnate creativity, and reduce competitiveness. Whereas Harriss said, the widespread toxic-hours culture is causing a decline in productivity and mental health. Yet, is top-down employment regulation the answer? Will it remove any basis for both employers and staff to argue for flexible working conditions, along with higher wages? Can that work in what continues to be an ever-changing dynamic sector?

 

October news

Design Week — Hostile design is still a problem in our public spaces - here’s why

Spikes, bars on seats and other tactics that stop people, homeless or otherwise, from freely using public spaces are illiberal and strike a blow at our humanity. Designers see this for what it is, but are less critical of other initiatives that also try to nudge us, such as schemes intended to promote the use of stairs over lifts and escalators. Is design for behaviour change wrong only when it is obviously cruel?

dezeen — Design Museum saved by £3m loan as finances deemed “not sustainable”

Why can’t the museum get the public through its doors? Design, as we are constantly reminded, is apparently pivotal to economic prosperity, the survival of the planet, and our well-being. What’s going on? Could it be that design is over-hyped, misplaced or misused?

CBI — UK creative industries crown must gleam brightly Post-Brexit

On one hand, we are stellar performers with the creative sector being held up as an example of worldwide British economic success. Yet in the same breath, we told to adopt a pro-European, protectionist outlook. Which is it to be? The sectors’ success is because of its worldwide global outlook, not in spite of it.

aeon — How smartphones silence what the urban landscape tries to say

How do we interact with the built environment? Why should we care about “how the built environment can be designed so that people are ‘nudged’ to act in ways that are safe, sustainable and socially desirable”? Why are “safe, sustainable and socially desirable” the best qualities to aim for? More and more democratic protest, from the Gilets Jaunes, to Hong Kong, to Spain, is coming out on to the streets and in to cities. Is this socially desirable?

Design Week — Protest by design: the creatives performing acts of political sedition

Right-on Led By Donkeys, the anti-Brexit campaign, has just been shortlisted as one of the Design Museum’s Beazley Designs of the Year. Perhaps no surprises that a remain campaign is short-listed? But when is design design, and when is it straightforward politics? Designers agonise over working for business – shouldn’t they agonise over working for other causes too?

 

September news

dezeen — Architects should give up concrete say experts at Architecture of Emergency climate summit

Apparently architects will no longer use concrete floors or plastic pipes. Next to go: energy-intensive glazing, steel and brick? Is this a progressive, or a reactionary idea?

Design China Beijing — Nature’s Way of Telling Us…

DesignBeijing's theme is "Nature’s Way of Telling Us…" Is this simply a shorthand for Chinese restraint? Does this represent a new and exciting sense of "innovation and invention" or is it the same ol' same ol'.

Politics Home — Tom Watson MP: Investing in arts and culture will create jobs and regenerate communities

Labour's Tom Watson says: "we’re looking at a model for a tax relief for literature." He adds: "Creativity and imagination empower us." Are we all Situationists now?

Design Week — Nicolas Roope: “A different design language is taking over”

Since leaving Poke, Roope says he's focussed on behaviour change arguing 'design needs to be a part of fixing it together.' Just why are so many designers fixated on behaviour? Wasn't design about opening up more possibilities over how we choose to live?

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