Design Today

One of the most ambitious and exciting projects South London Business Initiative has been involved in was Design Today. Setup at the beginning of 1990, Design Today helped south London firms to give more thought to the way they package and present their products.


Before launching the project, SLBI surveyed fifty local manufacturing firms to find out their attitudes to product design. The results showed that although none of the companies employed a designer, the majority knew that good design was essential if their product was to succeed. Their reluctance to commission a designer was due to money worries and a suspicion that good design was more than they could afford.

Given this information the SLBI started work on a project to bring good product design within the reach of local companies and at the mine time give design students a chance to test their skills.

The man behind Design Today is Bill Emmet and he explained its aims.

“What we are saying to small companies is that design is an integral part of your product. Look at the design of the product and it will help you to sell and compete. Often companies don’t know where to go to find a designer anti they don’t know what quality of design to expect. They think they can’t afford it designer. It is the same sort of reluctance firms have to employing a solicitor, accountant or any other professional.”
Bill Emmet teamed up with the industrial design departments of Imperial College, Brunel University and the Royal College of Art and found eight south London companies to take part in the first phase of Design Today. A student was assigned to each company and given a brief to carry out some aspect of product design for them working under a supervisor. The result of this work went on show at the Commonwealth Institute in November 1990, in an exhibition opened by the Undersecretary of State for Employment, Robert Jackson.

Such was the success of this pilot that the Design Today project has been expanded. In 1990, ten postgraduate students worked on more in depth design projects for companies throughout south London.

The Design Today inventions include a waste recycling unit in the shape of a giant sculpture for Westminster council, an alarm to warn against flooding and a foot operated music synthesiser.

Perhaps the most worthwhile invention was a pulsar, designed to be used by profoundly deaf children on the sports field.

“Engineers tend just to make a box to contain whatever it is they have invented. We can help make their invention attractive and functional. Design Today also means that students fresh out of college can get hands on experience in a firm, dealing with people and working within a budget”

Design Today has already joined the list of successful SLBI projects and will be built upon in the next year. In the pipeline are plans to take English inventions to French designers in order to make British genius Euro friendly for 1992 and after.

Design Today was sponsored by South Thames Training and Enterprise Council, Mercury Communications, The Royal College of Art and Imperial College.