The Design Council’s chief executive Sarah Weir

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The Design Council’s new chief executive Sarah Weir discusses the challenges the UK government is facing, how design can help to solve them and what must be done to get these solutions in motion

The news agenda is heavy with uncertainty around Brexit. Big questions remain about security, health, social care, education and housing. What is the plan to raise living standards? How do we pay for social care? What will our health service look like in five, 10 or 20 years and how are we going to build quality homes that will enable all of us to prosper and live healthier and fulfilled lives?

Every question is important, and each requires a considered debate. As product designers and engineers your role is to help solve these issues.

I don’t need to convince you that design is at the heart of the solution because you know this. My concern is the lack of design in some of the plans and proposed solutions I have seen.

We have seen the proposals and plans for industry – with some welcome announcements from all political corners but my question is: Do these proposals really feel like game changing policies, or just more of the same?

Our current and future economy, more than ever, depends on creative thinking, innovation and knowledge. This doesn’t really fit with industrial strategies of old.

Good design puts people first. It uses creativity to solve problems, challenge current thinking and change lives – and it’s already being used to drive economic growth and social change across the world.


We need more design thinking, not less, and I’m pushing for design to be at the heart of problem solving.

Perhaps one of the biggest unanswered questions in much of the debate about our future is how we are going to build an economy that not only maintains pace with the changing world, but stays ahead of the game.

Looking ahead, in 2020, technological innovation will continue its rapid pace. We will need designers and engineers to maintain and improve our quality of life including addressing challenges that have already been identified by world leaders. This includes the restoration and improvement of our urban infrastructure, engineering better medicines, securing cyberspace and providing energy from fusion.

We know that those involved with technology will need to be multidisciplinary. Future designers and engineers will need strong analytical skills, practical ingenuity, creativity, good communication skills, dynamism, agility, resilience and flexibility to name a few.

We will be pressing for an education system that not only puts design back into the national curriculum, but inserts design skills into core subjects.

This will help the scientists, engineers, lawyers and civic leaders of tomorrow to have the agile, creative and emotional intelligence to build the innovations, products, services and societies of tomorrow.

It’s not enough now just to get a degree and a job. Every professional must be in the pursuit of lifelong learning. We will be pressing for a clear plan for life-long work, retraining and redesigning the workplaces of tomorrow.

We need vision, collaboration with business and a radical rethink on how we consider working environments.

Brexit is looming and we need to find a way to keep talent in the country. The next generation of designers working across the economy must be encouraged to not just receive world-class training in Britain, but to remain and practice their craft here.

Britain already has some of the best designers in the world; it is vital that it remains the best place in the world for them to be.

Whilst we are talking about working life, we can’t forget what follows – retirement or life post 65 years. We need to get serious about ageing. It’s going to happen to all of us.

We know that health and social care is under pressure and we need to fund later life, but all we see is the push of negative commentary and language and a picture of life after 65 years as dark and dreary.

Retirement needs to be reimagined and re-born.

I will be pushing the ageing debate to the top of my agenda. Why? Because let’s be honest, most of us don’t really like what is currently being offered to us in later life — poor health and social care, loneliness and isolation. This might not even be the reality, but the images convey this.

The government’s core focus must remain on designing a better Britain that works for everyone. At a time when much of British life can seem clouded by uncertainty, good design can drive economic growth, improve our shared built environments and tackle social challenges – today and tomorrow

I believe design is at the heart of the solution. In fact, as we debate all the issues I have raised, including the industry, jobs and skills of the future, design leaps out.

The government’s core focus must remain on designing a better Britain that works for everyone. At a time when much of British life can seem clouded by uncertainty, good design can drive economic growth, improve our shared built environments and tackle social challenges – today and tomorrow.

Join me in designing our future economy by championing design and help me put design thinking at the centre of all plans.

Ones that provide a healthier, more prosperous, better Britain for everyone.

Sarah Weir OBE is the chief executive of the Design Council, a charity that uses design as a strategic tool to tackle major societal challenges, drive economic growth and innovation, and improve the quality of the built environment.

On the challenges the UK government is facing and how design can help to solve them

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