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Putting their finger on what ails North East design (and it's curable)

By The Drum, Administrator

March 5, 2010 | 4 min read

By promoting collaboration and best practice, a:design association aims to put on a united front to confront the issues that face the creative industries in the North East.

Over the years the aims and objectives have become more definite and the types of people involved – like the creative industries themselves – have grown and changed. People and companies from various disciplines are now involved – everything from PR to Film.

The biggest stage in a:design association’s evolution came two years ago when it was successful in securing two years worth of funding from its RDA, One North East. This funding was provided primarily to raise the general awareness of design in the region and to start to offer a support framework for the region’s creative businesses. It allowed a:design to make a concerted and planned effort to find out what was going on in the community and what the needs and wants are: “It’s been a really steep learning curve and has helped us form a clearer picture of what we need to do to support the region’s creatives,” says Morag McLaren, chief executive of a:design association. “Our objectives have become quite clear – with our overarching aim being to provide a unified voice for the North East design and creative community. Everything we do stems from this. We reflect the opinions, needs and beliefs of our members.”

Over the last two years a:design association has been talking to people in all areas of the creative industries and trying to find out about issues they are facing right now and what, if anything, it can do about it. “What we’ve found,” says McLaren, “is that the majority of issues or ‘symptoms’ highlighted can be traced back to one or two key ‘ailments’ – namely access and profile.”

The region’s creative industries are primarily made up of micro businesses, who often aren’t able to access the bigger projects or opportunities. As such, the association believes that collaboration between creatives is crucial.

“In an industry that has traditionally worked in silos it can be a challenge to break down some of those barriers and encourage dialogue. We’ve found that this happens quite naturally in the right environment. Provide an open, friendly and informal environment with an ice-breaker built in and people will do the rest themselves,” adds McLaren.

One of the association’s chief objectives – graduate and talent retention – has become increasingly important. “We think that if the region’s profile as a creative hub can be raised this talent migration will start to lessen. Quite simply, students don’t know what the creative landscape of the region really looks like – they don’t know about the great work that happens here, so how can they aspire to be a part of it?

“We’re also very aware of our responsibility to help the community with their development – whether that’s personal or for their business. Again the profile of the region is on the increase so we’re finding it easier than ever before to get agreement from well-respected speakers to visit the region. People buy people and we believe that by bringing those to the region who exemplify best practice and innovative thinking that the region’s businesses will benefit from this knowledge sharing.”

In the last 16 months a:design has brought together over 800 people through its events – this must be a good starting point for growth and innovation.


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