Design Matters: DX will help marry design and industry

In 1907, a group of German artists, architects, writers and manufacturers banded together to form an organization called the Deutscher Werkbund.The group's aim was to select 'the best representatives of art, industry, crafts and trades,' and to 'combine all efforts towards...

In 1907, a group of German artists, architects, writers and manufacturers banded together to form an organization called the Deutscher Werkbund.

The group’s aim was to select ‘the best representatives of art, industry, crafts and trades,’ and to ‘combine all efforts towards high quality in industrial work.’

The gospel of bringing together design and industry spread rapidly through the German education system, eventually resulting in the formation in 1919 of the Bauhaus – mother of all design schools – and crucible of the modern movement in 20th-century design.

Even a cursory look at the most successful products of German design and engineering will reveal the good sense of the Wekbund’s original mandate.

By building design into the manufacturing and communications process, quality has resulted in competitive strength and economic growth.

In an effort to repeat that kind of success, a group of Canadian designers and manufacturers have come together to form the Design Exchange.

Like the Werkbund, the Design Exchange is mandated to bring design and industry together to encourage the highest standards of quality in industrial, architectural, interior and graphic design.

Unlike its ancestor, however, the dx, as it is colloquially called, wants to demonstrate that design quality is also the key to a strong economy.

The most demonstrable symbol of the dx’s efforts to spread the gospel of good design to the business community is its location.

Occupying the renovated premises of the former Toronto Stock Exchange, the dx is ideally situated to commune with the leaders of Canadian business.

In its new digs, it will mount exhibitions, offer courses and lectures, promote products and services, host product launches, sponsor competitions and house a multimedia directory of Canadian design since 1945 for use by scholars and designers.

An impressive roster of more than 80 corporate supporters have queued up to boost the dx, including Bell Canada, Apple Canada, Northern Telecom, Gordon Capital and Inco.

Lending financial and technical assistance, these companies have demonstrated a shared belief in the power of design to help build a strong economy.

New converts

But the overwhelming reality is that there are thousands of other companies which have not yet recognized the value of good design, and the measure of the dx’s success will be determined by how many of these it will be able to convert.

While there have been similar facilities set up in places such as Singapore, Taiwan, Germany, France, England, Spain, and 16 other countries around the world, this is the first in North America.

Although the quality=economic strength message is beginning to permeate some quarters of North American industry, we have historically been more interested in the quantity=profitability equation.

Indeed, while 19th-century politicians and industrialists in England and Europe were trying to establish standards of quality to increase international competitiveness, North American industrialists were focussed on a way of improving distribution to increase profitability.

In other words, how it was built didn’t matter so much as how many were sold.

Much has changed since then, to the point where, in international trade, how many are sold depends more and more on how well they are built.

Quality

And, quality must not only apply to the products themselves, but to the way in which they are packaged, and the way in which companies present themselves to their markets.

What hasn’t changed is the bottom line.

We live in a mercantile culture, not a design culture.

The gap between these two is still wide, and designers have as much to learn about business as business does about design.

The problem is, the power rests with business, and design is still perceived as a frill in many quarters.

The task that lies before the Design Exchange is, therefore, monumental, and the next few years will determine whether it is up to the challenge.

For the sake of everyone’s well-being, let’s hope that it is.

The Design Exchange will be officially opened by Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Sept. 21.

The facility will be open to the public Sept. 24-27.