'Designers are not hairdressers who sort out a project on a bad hair day'

September 28, 2007

Nick Leon, the new director of the Design-London joint venture, draws on both academic and industry skills.

Designers have not always had the respect they deserve from the engineering world, according to industrial designer Nick Leon.

"I think that over the years trying to get engineers to understand and engage with designers earlier on in the design process has sometimes been quite hard to do," said the new director of Design-London, a £5.8 million project between Imperial College and the Royal College of Art.

"Designers are not simply hairdressers who can be called in to sort out a project on a bad hair day! But they have tended to be viewed as some sort of exotic creature."

In fact, Mr Leon said, good design is about far more than aesthetics, and in a world where consumers are more design-conscious than ever, there is growing recognition that it is key to the success of not only individual products, but entire businesses.

"It is naive to think that we can go and try to make businesspeople into designers," Mr Leon said. The solution is multidisciplinary teams of experts, he believes. Design-London will develop new ways for designers, engineers and businesspeople to work together to mutual advantage.

And who better to run it than a man who started his career as an engineering student at Imperial College London before studying industrial design at the Royal College of Art? Mr Leon joined IBM as an industrial designer in 1975 and has had 30 years of experience working for the company in sales and marketing and in product design. In 2005, he returned to Imperial as a visiting fellow at its Tanaka Business School, teaching innovation studies.

"When I heard about Design-London, I felt that it was as if my whole career had been a rehearsal for this," he said.

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