City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Dott Dott Dott

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Another post about policy, alighting for a moment on the recent Dott programme announcement. In their literature, the Design Council sees the illustrious forebears of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Festival of Britain one hundred years later. Foregoing the neat symmetry of waiting until 2051, they’ve gone and launched a design programme for the 21st century early, called ‘Designs of the time’, or Dott. It’s been covered well elsewhere, so I’ll do no more than pause to commend the appointment of John Thackara as programme director for Dott 07, based in the North East. This is hugely encouraging – I’m reading Thackara’s excellent In The Bubble at the moment and if even a fraction of his ideas make it into the Dott programme, they’ll be well set. Thackara in the Dott brochure:

“Dott 07 is not about telling people in the North East how to live. On the contrary: its purpose is to enable local people – interacting with inspiring and visionary guest from around the world – to develop their own visions and scenarios. In that sense, Dott is in the acorns business: its most valuable legacy will be the people who stay behind, the projects they have started, and the skills they have acquired to carry them out.”

The programme looks set to ensure this doesn’t become interpreted as a level playing field of populist low ambition, but aims to enable a more participative, adaptive approach in which design is recognised as an everyday activity, engendering agency by building a skillset within reach of everyone, to varying degrees. Very interesting intervention if so.

I’m interested in a few more things. Firstly, how the Dott programme will dovetail with the national network of centres for creativity and innovation recommended by the Cox Review. Surely there’s a creative overlap to forge there. Secondly, to commend the scale of ambition here. It’s great that it’s a long-term 10-year programme, rather than actually following the high impact crescendo approach of the Great Exhibition and Festival of Britain, and that it’s being developed from within regions, with diffuse strategies of public design commissions, education programmes and design showcases. Thirdly, I’m intrigued as to the subsequent steps after the North East – where next?

Finally how it provides another example of how variously wielding the power of the public sector can be allied to innovation in business, following the Cox Review. Lou Rosenfeld’s recent comment in response to Dott indicates that the US is in no position to genuinely coordinate creativity in industry. Whilst there’s a strong entrepreneurial culture in the US, it’s going to be fascinating to see how that holds up – despite all this hubristic Dotcom 2.0 chutney – when faced with countries of similar scale embodied by Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs). It may be that the smaller, more agile countries – Finland, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands et al, and potentially Britain, as well as the other South-East Asian tigers – could be flexible enough to work in this context. Dott may help manouevre the UK in such a direction.

Designs of the time


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