Blank organisation chart

Neil Ayres asked for my thoughts on D&AD — the London-based organisation at which he works. Before I replied I got sidetracked by Ireland's Design Week. The event website needed updating, so I sent a quick email to remind the organisers that the "get involved" page was months out-of-date.

Barry Sheehan, the Week's chairperson and director at Sheehan Architects, replied to say they're volunteers, and despite best intentions the website hadn't received its intended overhaul. On a tangent, Barry's email signature linked to his 2009 dissertation, titled What is the Optimal Structure for Organisations Representing Design and Designers on the Island of Ireland? It was written for his Masters in Professional Design Practice at the Dublin Institute of Technology. Short story shorter, I read the report and thought it might help answer Neil.

Here's a dissertation excerpt I found particularly relevant. It's from page 49 where Barry questionned a number people who held senior positions within design associations.


4.2.15 Question 15
With the exception of architecture, in your opinion, why do so few designers join professional design organisations?

Purpose of question 15:
It was established in the literature review that the percentage of graduate architects joining design organisations is high. By way of comparison, the number of other designers joining design organisations is low. Why is this?

Key points in the answers to question 15:
Dawson Stelfox and Elaine Butler are in agreement, saying respectively. ‘They don’t have to.’ and ‘Because the market doesn’t demand it of them.’

Rather than point to the self interest of designers, Damian Cranney and John O’Connor also look to the offerings of the organisations. Cranney states, ‘It’s not seen as a necessary mark for professional standards. ... There are few design organisations that have anything tangible, or a kind of perceived, genuinely meaningful value, to offer designers.’ This is echoed by O’Connor, ‘There are no immediate benefits. ... The industry or designers themselves don’t actually genuinely see a benefit. ... The industry doesn’t support the organisation. In other words, if you are looking for work, you are never asked, “Are you a member?”’

Garrett Stokes is more direct. ‘They don’t believe in them, and they are right.’

Nick Cloake and Toby Scott discuss the issue of design not being considered as a profession, something that was highlighted in the literature review. Cloake states, ‘Two reasons. One is apathy. ... The other is that I think designers have yet to realise they are a profession. ... Designers, I think, are also naturally single people. They operate on a kind of a solo basis and they aren’t great team players. They are not joiners.’ Toby Scott agrees, ‘There is no need. ... There is no professional accreditation or sense of continuing professional development.’ He also states that ‘the economics are poor’.

This point is echoed by Michael Thomson, indicating the tricky times of recession, when members state, ‘Why do I pay €400 to my organisation? What value am I getting?’ This is of course the case, but we have established that some organisations have little revenue. Without significantly increased revenue, how can they increase their offering?

Seán O’Laoire also highlights the issue of financial interest when speaking of why architects join organisations. Irrespective of the quality of offerings of the RIAI and RSUA, significant numbers of architects join. ‘Being a member is fairly fundamentally linked to you and your capacity to be employed.’

Conclusions drawn from the answers to question 15:
There are many reasons why designers do not join design organisations. They are clearly outlined by the interviewees. There is a financial imperative for architects to join. The opposite may be the case with designers. They do not join because they do not have to.

The offerings may be inadequate, leading to low membership numbers. Low membership numbers directly imposes financial constraints, resulting in limited offerings. A way out of this downward spiral is for organisations to pool resources, financially and administratively, to boost the offering, changing the direction of the spiral.

Dawson Stelfox, President, Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA)
Damian Cranney, President, Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI)
Garrett Stokes, Past President, Institute of Creative Advertising and Design (ICAD)
John O’Connor, Board Member, Design Ireland
Elaine Butler, Past President, Interiors Association (IA)
Seán O’Laoire, President, The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI)
Toby Scott, Former Director, Design Council, London
Nicholas (Nick) Cloake, President, Graphic Design Business Association (GDBA)
Michael Thompson, Former President, Bureau of European Design Associations (BEDA)

Back to D&AD and Neil's question. It's £100 to join the organisation. These are the member benefits. I'd consider joining if I lived in London. But living in Northern Ireland?

A quote from Cat in a previous post, affiliation in the design profession, comes to mind:

"You get out of it what you put in, so if you don’t go to meetings, or become involved with other members, paying the fee is pretty much useless."

I'd go with that. If I was paying an annual fee I'd want to get involved, attend events, meet other designers. Overall, the dissertation left me with a pretty negative account of Irish design organisations, summed-up in an Enterprise Ireland report from 1999:

"The Design consultancy sector in Ireland is fragmented and diverse, comprising many small design consultancy practices, operating within different design arenas. While there are a number of different industry associations i.e. the Institute of Designers in Ireland, Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland (RIAI), the Graphic Design Business Association, Institute of Creative Advertising and Design, etc, no one organisation represents the interests of all designers. As a consequence design is not represented at an industry level; there is no cohesion, poor networking, both within design areas and across design disciplines and little cross-fertilisation of ideas."

Design Ireland grew as a result of the report, but with lack of funding it became a completely voluntary organisation until in 2009 it could no longer survive and ceased trading.

Norway is frequently mentioned in Barry Sheehan's report as an example of a similar-sized nation doing things better, and I recently heard good things about folk in the Norwegian Design Council.

Are you a member of any design organisations? I'm interested to know why or why not, particularly if you're based in Northern Ireland.


"The Chartered Society of Designers has received Royal permission to grant the designation of Chartered Designer, thus allowing it to go ahead with its controversial plans for professional certification in design."

Quoted from Creative Review: CDes gets go-ahead.