70 Years of the Design Council: What Has Changed and Why Design Is So Important to Society

29/10/2015 21:51 GMT | Updated 29/10/2016 10:12 BST

In this extraordinary era, design shed its cloak of invisibility, was co-opted as a significant factor in global consumerism and is becoming democratised. It moved beyond material artefacts and aimed to influence behaviour by creating experiences and enabling social change.

The design industry used to be a back-office function of manufacturing. Now, it is a conspicuous force in our lives.

That industry has been an instrumental force in globalisation. When a product can be made anywhere in the world, a company's true value is in intellectual property, not in production. Designers and engineers have therefore become equal partners in many sectors.

A driving force in the last two decades is the move from analogue to digital. As designers are liberated from the demands of capital investment, they become more agile, have a closer relationship to the product, grasp more responsibility and work more directly with those who engage with the products and services they design.

People are the big story of the coming decades. In the post-war era, design could be characterised by its efforts to improve efficiency and usability, as a kind of public service. Unless you were a member of the elite, design had little thought of you as an individual.

Then design became a core part of the marketing mix, harnessed to the imperatives of consumption. Through this, design and designers became part of the vocabulary of the general public. Famously, customers can now order a Mini in a staggering 66,000 permutations - a far cry from Henry Ford's "any colour as long as it's black". People are central, not just as users or consumers, but as social beings to be worked with as we confront the challenges of the world.

So the question is; how will people change design?

In the material space, big global brands will increasingly coexist with local design alternatives, particularly in the domestic and established tech spaces, and in some digital services. The biggest growth, though, will be social design - designing networks, experiences and services that focus on longevity, improving lives and empowering people.

Our staff and students benefit from working with the Design Council. For example, the Design Council have funded a series of projects by UAL's Design Against Crime Research Centre since 2001, which designs out opportunity for crime and influencing behaviours. It has also delivered a series of events which helped us create effective networks with the criminal justice system, other institutions and manufacturers. UAL is a member of the Design Council Sounding Board. We also work with the Design Council on the Design Academy initiative, in which students from diverse design disciplines work on joint social good projects, taking a service design approach.

To get better answers, you need better questions, which are the essence of effective design. We are proud that UAL teaches design as a way of reading the world in order to ensure that positive change happens. This means understanding people, recognising that their issues are cultural and social as well as utilitarian and economic.