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I think it's fair to say that our small country has had a fairly non-committal relationship with design. It feels like it's time to stop bemoaning the situation and to do something about it.

Ian Walton

Yesterday we were paid a visit by Professor Alex Milton, who it was announced last week has been appointed as the Programme Director for the 2015 Year of Irish Design (YOID). This appointment sees Alex move from his previous role as Head of Design at the National College of Art & Design (NCAD), Dublin. Funnily enough this was the first time our paths have properly crossed despite our ongoing involvement with NCAD, and we had the pleasure of discussing the new role at length among many other design related tangents.

I think it’s fair to say that our small country has had a fairly non-committal relationship with design. In fact I believe it’s fair to say that this country continues to struggle with it’s interpretation of the practice. Look no further than the recent Irish Water debacle to confirm the value Ireland places on design. Unfortunately for any of us functioning in the sector the designer is still seen as a service provider on these shores. Design is something you apply at the end of the-important-work to make everything pretty. I would go so far as to say it is often seen as folly, or a luxury at the very least.

Meanwhile our European neighbours and American friends bring design closer and closer to the centre of public and private industry every day. The most talked-about companies are all design-driven (Nest, Drop, Airbnb, Lytro, Jawbone, etc.), while in the UK the creative industry is worth £71bn (€88.6bn) annually, accounts for 1.68m jobs and generates £8m hourly for the economy, the same as Britain’s financial industry.” *

Clearly I am biased. I am after all an industrial designer working for my own studio. However I can’t help but feel frustrated (and at times a little helpless) when I think about how this country views and represents our profession. I can’t help but feel that Ireland is missing the boat (and the point).

Now let me get to the positive bit.

Over the course of two hours spent with Alex yesterday both Marcel and I began to get excited. His enthusiasm is infectious, his experience and understanding of contemporary design across disciplines are ideal for the role. We discussed everything from product design to UI/UX to fashion and it became clear that the YOID is in very good hands indeed.

Now that’s not to say that it will be easy. The challenges involved in the year are plentiful, while the objectives run the gamut from education to job creation. The agenda is both domestic and international, and the goals vary for each. The list is simply too long to go into here but rest assured Alex will be a busy man.

It is easy to feel isolated and unsupported when working in the design profession in Ireland. It is even easier to spend time complaining about it. Yesterday felt like a turning point for some reason, and we have pledged as much or as little of our time and input as Alex needs. It feels like it’s time to stop bemoaning the situation and to do something about it. It’s possible Ireland might get on that boat after all.

* Taken from Alex Milton’s excellent article “Creating our own future by design”, The Irish Examiner, 30.06.2014
Image Credit: Plymouth University