Long live the in-house team

January 16, 2009

18 December 2008: I’ve just returned from an overnight trip to the Netherlands where I and other international guests were generously dined by Aldermen of the City of the Hague at the launch of Design den Haag 2010-2018. This ambitious project, subtitled Design and Governance, aims to deliver a report and recommendations to the European Commission in 2018 for its role in the use and commissioning of design. This by means of biennial partnerships with five European cities – Berlin, Stockholm, Rome, London and Paris. London is scheduled for 2016. The objectives are put forth with his usual combination of thoughtfulness and bravura by the wonderful Ed Annink, coalescing as an ambition to “give direction” to the multiple and collective creative ability in Europe.


From my perspective, the difficulty of the concept is that it is all framed in the context of cultural policy. The appendix pertaining to cultural policy in the UK is a history of the Arts Council. When at first I was puzzled by this very one-sided view of design as part of cultural policy – here design is fostered much more vigorously by protagonists of the innovation and creative industries agenda – I realise that for the Dutch, as Simon Schama described at glorious length in The Embarassment of Riches, the concept of culture is stretchy enough to have economic implications, and economy includes the wealth that is culture. Some Brits might argue that, but the Dutch seem to know it deeply.


As if I needed persuading of the potentially beautiful alliance of design and governance, we were treated to a visit to the Museum of Communication, once the PTT Museum. Graphic design enthusiasts will know that the PTT organised from the 1920s until the early 90s the most sustained public design programme the world has known. A testament to that almost extinct concept of the in-house design team, where the sense of the values of design are shared beyond designers to the wider community on the payroll. Apple and the Guardian are the outstanding teams bucking the trend. Penguin comes and goes, London Underground regularly reassures me.

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