Design Centre

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The Council of Industrial Design's (COID, See Design Council) Design Centre in the Haymarket, London, was established in 1956 and became, over the next four decades, an important and highly visible presence for official design promotion in Britain and influenced the setting up of similar centres in many other countries. Since the 1920s, several British design organizations had campaigned for a permanent metropolitan exhibition venue where manufacturers, retailers, buyers, and consumers could view, and be informed about, the best of British design. The idea had also been considered in a number of official reports such as the Gorell Report of 1932 and the Weir Report of 1943. Government approval for the Centre was given in 1954 and the central London venue opened in 1956 with an estimated 22,500 visitors in the first week who were able to see over 1,000 products drawn from 433 British firms. The Centre even had its own identity symbol designed by Hans Schleger (Zéro). Exhibitions were mounted throughout the Centre's life, often attracting large crowds as with the New Designs for British Railways exhibition of 1963 that drew almost 30,000 visitors a week. Other exhibitions were able to stimulate important economic debates, as with the Designed in Britain—Made Abroad display of 1981, which underlined the fact that many innovative and original British designers were more readily employed by progressive companies overseas than in the generally more conservative environment of British manufacturing industry. The Design Centre also housed the COID's Design Review, a photographic and information register of selected products by British designers and manufacturers. Interested parties—retailers, buyers, manufacturers, and others from home and abroad—could consult what were felt to be the best exemplars of British products, design talent, and manufacturing expertise. These were selected by committees involving the COID's director, Council members, and independent consultants and were characterized by the values associated with ‘Good Design’. The Design Centre Awards Scheme was set up in 1957, an annual selection of a small number of well‐designed British products. The distinctive black and white triangular Design Centre Label was introduced in 1959, entitling manufacturers whose goods had been displayed in the Centre to attach them to their products for publicity purposes. In the mid‐1960s the public display areas were extended to include more exhibition space, together with a souvenir and, later, a bookshop that soon became a leading source for recent publications on design. However, it was some of these developments that were later to give rise to criticisms of the ways in which the Design Centre and Council were viewed. In 1983 a survey of design consultants carried out for the magazine Campaign indicated dissatisfaction with several aspects of the Council's operations, feeling that too much attention was being paid to souvenirs and education. Some members of the Conservative government were also concerned about the Council's involvement with retailing and what might be seen as non‐core activities. Despite the establishment of a Young Designers Centre in 1989 and other progressive initiatives, the Design Centre fell prey to the wider economic cuts faced by the Design Council and closed in 1994.


Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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