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Defining Design: The Debate — APDIG Term Paper, December 2013

How design is presented in the media, business and government


The Associate Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group (APDIG) has published its newest term paper.

"In this paper we propose that design is suffering from a PR problem, which leaves it misunderstood and undervalued by government, underused by business, and misrepresented in the media.

This is not a new problem – indeed designers have been complaining of such things for years. However it has been brought to the fore again recently by the work DCMS has undertaken to update their ‘creative industries’ taxonomy. What we hope to trigger with this paper is a conversation about how designers themselves can take charge of these representation problems by working towards a better articulation of what they do. We have five short essays from five brilliant thinkers on this topic."

Cambridge University's Dr James Moultrie kicks off with a discussion of why better articulation of the industry is crucial, and ways to embark upon it. Mark Spilsbury, former Chief Economist at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills tackles the nitty gritty of how government, in its own way, classifies and adds up design’s economic impact. Dr Nick de Leon, service design lead at the Royal College of Art, argues that government itself is in desperate need of better implementation of design. Angus Montgomery, Editor of Design Week, tackles the industry’s own self-doubts in communicating confidently. And design PR expert, Yvonne Courtney, looks at how the media depiction of design has regressed in recent years, reducing it to a few frocks and chairs on the lifestyle pages.

A full copy of the report is available to download here.

In addition to these must-read essays the paper also contains a some highly thought-provoking quotations from a number of professionals in the field who have recently engaged in shaping this debate.

A few of our favourites include:


“we, in design, need to overcome our nervousness about holding on to our non-conformity.”  Edwin Heathcote, FT critic


“Design is absolutely part of our industrial heritage... but so often government talks about it in the context of cultural – rather than industrial – policy.”  Lesley Morris, design policy expert 


"The main understanding we need to undo in government is the idea that to bring in design is to prettify something. It’s actually about thinking – and government pours billions into, for example, A&E departments, without doing the necessary thinking about how it’s going to work. The chaos is costing us money.”  Mark Adams, CEO, Vitsoe  


Over the coming months, the APDIG will continue to support the aspects of this conversation that relate to government, working with industry to suggest refinements to the way government classifies design, and responding to that time-old issue of poor understanding. Follow their progress here.   


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