How the cre­ative in­dus­tries can change Scot­land for the bet­ter

Scot­tish de­sign is thriv­ing and prized abroad, but there is more we could do to im­prove our econ­omy and qual­ity of life, writes de­sign cu­ra­tor Stacey Hunter, who has been in­spired by a re­cent two-month res­i­dency in Ja­pan

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Jen­nifer Kent, In­strmnt, Hi­lary Grant, Ban­ton Frame­works, Karen Mabon – never heard of them? They are not yet house­hold names, how­ever these Scot­tish de­sign­ers have not only es­tab­lished suc­cess­ful busi­nesses in the UK but can le­git­i­mately say they are ‘big in Ja­pan’. From the lux­ury de­part­ment stores of Tokyo to the bou­tiques of Fukuoka in the south and Hokkaido in the north, Ja­panese con­sumers are buy­ing into con­tem­po­rary Scot­tish de­sign. Max­i­mal­ist um­brel­las, min­i­mal­ist watches, el­e­gant menswear and hand­made sun­glasses are just some of the prod­ucts you’ll find head­ing to Ja­pan via Glas­gow, Ed­in­burgh and Orkney.

There are a number of rea­sons why Scot­tish de­sign is prized in Ja­pan. Our long­stand­ing her­itage of the high­est qual­ity knitwear trav­els well, and our en­gi­neer­ing prow­ess gives prod­uct de­sign from Scot­land an edge. But it’s not past tri­umphs and de­signs from hack­neyed pat­tern books that the dis­cern­ing Ja­panese con­sumer chooses, it’s orig­i­nal, con­tem­po­rary de­sign at its best.

As a de­sign cu­ra­tor work­ing closely with Scot­land’s de­sign com­mu­nity I was in­vited to pre­pare a small ex­hibit

of con­tem­po­rary de­sign busi­nesses ex­port­ing to Ja­pan for Fiona Hys­lop, Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary for Cul­ture, Tourism and Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs to present to Ja­panese lead­ers dur­ing her trip there in July 2018. This served as one of a number of op­por­tu­ni­ties to dis­cuss Scot­land’s use of cul­ture as a pro­mo­tional tool in do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional mar­kets.

Some­thing that’s not well known yet at home, is that mod­ern Scot­tish de­sign is in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in­ter­na­tion­ally. Buy­ers in Los An­ge­les, Athens or Sin­ga­pore place orders for de­sign they know will sell in com­pet­i­tive and of­ten lux­ury mar­ket­places. The ori­gin of the de­sign stu­dio is sec­ondary; it’s not Scot­land the brand they’re buy­ing into – it’s out­stand­ing de­sign.

I trav­elled to Ja­pan my­self at the be­gin­ning of 2019 to spend two months as a res­i­dent de­sign cu­ra­tor in two lo­ca­tions: Tokyo – pop­u­la­tion nine mil­lion – and Arita in the ru­ral south – pop­u­la­tion 20,000. I was a guest of the in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions Arts Ini­tia­tive Tokyo (AIT) and Cre­ative Res­i­dency Arita on the jour­ney of a life­time sup­ported by the Bri­tish Coun­cil Scot­land/ Cre­ative Scot­land, The Daiwa An­glo-ja­panese Foun­da­tion and The Great Bri­tain Sasakawa Foun­da­tion. This was de­vel­oped by Scot­land’s Cove Park, Hospi­tal­field and Ed­in­burgh Sculp­ture Work­shop.

There I saw first-hand how Ja­pan ap­pre­ci­ates her­itage and tra­di­tion whilst cel­e­brat­ing and pro­mot­ing its con­tem­po­rary de­sign cul­ture. A de­sign ex­hi­bi­tion called Long Life De­sign cu­rated by d47 Mu­seum founder and ‘de­sign activist’ Na­gaoka Ken Mei brought to­gether prod­ucts from the 47 pre­fec­tures of Ja­pan. The items fea­tured were var­ied from Ta­jika Kitchen Shears and a Snow White cloth from Nara to the Marni 60 Oak Frame Chair from Hiroshima. All de­signs skil­fully in­cor­po­rate el­e­ments of what the cu­ra­tor de­scribes as their “per­son­al­ity” and some­thing that is “rooted in the land”.

This beau­ti­ful de­sign ex­hi­bi­tion took place on the up­per floors of the pres­ti­gious Tokyo de­part­ment store Hikarie. It is per­fectly nor­mal to see well pro­duced, in­tel­li­gent de­sign ex­hi­bi­tions in shop­ping cen­tres in Tokyo. In fact, it’s per­fectly or­di­nary to see high qual­ity, con­tem­po­rary de­sign in pub­lic spa­ces all over Ja­pan, a coun­try that val­ues de­sign at ev­ery level. How do you move nine mil­lion peo­ple around a pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem with­out ut­ter chaos? Stick­ers ap­plied to the sta­tion floor show train pas­sen­gers where to wait in an or­derly queue for ap­proach­ing trains in just one low-tech ex­am­ple of how de­sign is ap­pre­ci­ated and utilised. De­sign is not about lux­ury or aes­thet­ics – it’s just as much about sys­tems and tools.

Else­where in Ja­pan, ex­quis­ite table­ware is com­mon­place and staff uni­forms are im­pec­ca­bly tai­lored and neat. Even tourists are treated to the high­est qual­ity of de­sign sou­venirs – Ki­hara’s range of Tokyo Icons in dis­tinc­tive Arita white and blue porce­lain start at around 500 Yen (ap­prox £3) and man­age to be mod­ern, cute, at­trac­tive and af­ford­able – as­pects vis­i­tors to Scot­land are un­likely to find from our sou­venir pro­vi­sion on the Royal Mile.

As a de­sign cu­ra­tor I see ex­cep­tional de­sign be­ing cre­ated in Scot­land – but few out­lets for it. De­spite the fact that ac­ces­sories, fash­ion and even por­ta­ble ar­chi­tec­ture cre­ated by Laura Spring, Kestin Hare, and the Bothy Project eas­ily ri­val like-for­like prod­ucts from Fin­land, Den­mark or Italy; we are not yet thought of as a de­sign na­tion. Why is that? With great de­sign schools: af­ford­able work spa­ces and hous­ing in com­par­i­son to Lon­don, Paris or Mi­lan; and a healthy arts and tourism sec­tor surely Scot­tish de­sign should be one of our key cul­tural ex­ports?

I founded Lo­cal He­roes in 2015 to shine a light on an op­por­tu­nity missed and to cham­pion the Scot­tish de­sign com­mu­nity. My tiny or­gan­i­sa­tion (to­tal staff: one) puts de­sign from Scot­land on an in­ter­na­tional stage, pre­sent­ing and pro­mot­ing Scot­tish prod­ucts and in­dus­tries to the pub­lic, with a fo­cus on high qual­ity de­sign. Through ex­hi­bi­tions and events we pro­vide unique op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to ap­pre­ci­ate Scot­land’s con­tem­po­rary de­sign land­scape. Through

com­mis­sions, we sup­port de­sign­ers to de­velop ex­cit­ing new work and en­cour­age ex­per­i­men­tal ap­proaches to new prod­ucts which cel­e­brate Scot­tish de­sign and in­no­va­tion. But it’s not enough. Lo­cal He­roes ex­ists in the vac­uum where a de­sign pol­icy should be.

Fos­ter­ing a strong de­sign cul­ture be­gins with ac­knowl­edg­ing the pur­pose and value de­sign makes to ev­ery­day life. Show me one per­son who doesn’t re­turn from a de­sign led city like Copen­hagen, Helsinki or Stock­holm wring­ing their hands about the missed op­por­tu­nity here to make our pub­lic realm friend­lier, eas­ier and more beau­ti­ful. In­stead we still have plan­ning de­part­ments where no staff hold a de­sign qual­i­fi­ca­tion. We have no gov­ern­ment pol­icy for de­sign and no na­tional pro­gramme of de­sign. The pub­lic sup­port for Scot­land’s Year of De­sign in 2016 demon­strated that ev­ery year could be a year of de­sign if only there was the com­mit­ment of elected of­fi­cials.

So why isn’t de­sign pri­ori­tised as it is in Ja­pan? And why does it mat­ter? Hav­ing worked in the sec­tor for over 15 years

I can see clearly that we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a golden age of de­sign. Our coun­try’s di­ver­sity, plu­ral­ism and con­nec­tions to in­ter­na­tional net­works is in­flu­enc­ing a whole gen­er­a­tion of tal­ented de­sign­ers and de­sign en­trepreneur­s. Sup­port­ing our de­sign com­mu­nity prop­erly and ex­ten­sively is im­por­tant be­cause we need to re­tain the best de­sign minds. We all ben­e­fit from em­brac­ing de­sign cul­ture be­cause over time it leads to bet­ter ser­vices, ful­fill­ing jobs, more ef­fi­cient and safer pub­lic realms and a richer cul­ture.

De­sign has be­come a sig­nif­i­cant as­set and is a ma­jor part of the fastest grow­ing econ­omy in the UK dur­ing aus­ter­ity – the cre­ative in­dus­tries grew at twice the rate of the wider econ­omy in 2015-16. Now worth £91.8 bil­lion in terms of gross value added to the UK, the sec­tor grew by 7.6 per cent over the year, while the econ­omy as a whole grew by 3.5 per cent in the same pe­riod. Par­tic­u­larly high growth was shown by the crafts in­dus­try (14.6 per cent), de­sign and fash­ion (11 per cent), cre­ative tech in­clud­ing games (11.4 per cent), pub­lish­ing (7.7 per cent) and film and TV (6.6 per cent). By dis­re­gard­ing the con­tri­bu­tion de­sign makes to our econ­omy and our so­ci­ety now we are throw­ing away the chance to take our place in the world as a de­sign na­tion and fail­ing to cap­i­talise on a ma­jor as­set.

The smart move for Scot­land is to be­gin in­vest­ing in our de­sign cul­ture by cel­e­brat­ing con­tem­po­rary de­sign and cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to see and buy high qual­ity Scot­tish de­sign at home and in­ter­na­tion­ally. The Cre­ative In­dus­tries is one of the top five growth sec­tors of the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s eco­nomic strat­egy so I have high hopes that the new Scot­tish En­ter­prise chief sees the op­por­tu­nity to cham­pion de­sign and will, along­side Cre­ative Scot­land, get behind de­sign en­trepreneur­s by sup­port­ing a long-term and con­sis­tent pro­gramme of in­ter­na­tional projects and ex­hi­bi­tions – sim­i­lar to the way sis­ter art forms and in­dus­tries like TV and food and drink have been pri­ori­tised for suc­cess.

To date, Lo­cal He­roes has pi­o­neered cross-sec­tor part­ner­ships unit­ing ex­per­tise in de­sign, cul­ture, cities, cre­ativ­ity, en­ter­prise and tourism. We want to work to­gether with like-minded or­gan­i­sa­tions and peo­ple to present Scot­tish de­sign ta­lent to the world. Now is the time to rally behind the de­sign com­mu­nity so that we can all ben­e­fit from bet­ter prod­ucts, places and sus­tain­able solutions for the fu­ture.

Clock­wise from main: Hi­lary Grant knitwear; a watch from Glas­gow-based In­strmnt; sun­glasses by Ban­ton Frame­works; a scarf by Jen­nifer Kent; Stacey Hunter; Tokyo Icons sou­venirs; stick­ers help pas­sen­ger flow in a Ja­panese train sta­tion

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