UK architects and designers call for Brexit manifesto to dispel "elitist" perception


Brexit design summit: the UK's creative industries should come together to produce a manifesto explaining the benefits they bring the whole country, designers have suggested.

The industry should set out why it is important to the UK both culturally and economically, leading figures said, and present a vision for how it can thrive when the UK leaves the EU.

It can then use this to lobby the government to ensure its needs are represented in negotiations with the EU.

The calls came during Dezeen's Brexit design summit last week, and in subsequent emails from architects, designers and other influential figures who took part.

Design journalist Max Fraser co-hosted the Brexit design summit with Dezeen editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs

"What we have to do is present a story which is positive, without doom and gloom, that's telling a story about the design industry, what its values are, how important it is, how many people it employs," said design journalist Bethan Ryder.

"We need to connect it to the rest of the country, and not just London," said Ryder, adding that bodies such as the Design Council, the Creative Industries Federation and the RIBA should work together.

"We need to send out a message showing what [design] can do for the rest of the UK."

"The creative industries don't really have one single voice, and this is what we need more than anything," agreed industrial designer Paul Priestman.

Priestman added that the sector should urge the government to ensure there was "a climate for businesses to operate and grow successfully, regardless of what industry they operate in" after Brexit.

Judy Dobias, president of design PR firm Camron, said the response of institutions representing architecture and design to Brexit had been "really bad" compared to industries such as fashion and technology.

"Where were we? Nowhere," she said. "I think we’re bad at harnessing what we’ve got and maybe this is the time to say, you know, we need to speak more clearly about what we do."

Brexit design summit
Telegraph journalist Bethan Ryder (left) and Camron president Judy Dobias discussed the need to make a positive case for the design industry

Last month's EU referendum revealed a sharp divide between London, which voted strongly to remain in the EU, and many other parts of the UK, which voted to leave.

London is home to 40 per cent of creative businesses, according to a new report, potentially reinforcing the idea that creative businesses are part of a privileged metropolitan elite, attendees suggested.

"We are the elite and we all benefitted from post-recession London in a way that most of Britain didn't," said architect Alison Brooks.

"How do we help create a new culture of inclusivity and how do we remove design and design culture from being this elitist middle-class thing to being something that everybody understands as being their own?"

"I completely agree it can't sound like a protest from an entitled urban elite," said designer Ilse Crawford, adding that any manifesto should also reach out to the rest of Europe.

"There needs to be a clear message to Europe that as a country we are still as progressive, open-minded, talented, forward-thinking as ever, albeit with a strong strain of sceptics in our midst," she said.

Brexit design summit
Architect Alison Brooks called for the industry to make design more inclusive

Attendees argued that the UK's world-class architecture and design sector – part of a creative economy worth £84 billion per year – played a huge role in the country's perception and influence overseas, as well as benefitting the wider UK economy.

"Our inclusive creative industries have generated a huge number of offshoots industries, ranging from digital methods of manufacture, to design management to a new culture of making and design craftsmanship," said Brooks.

However departure from the EU risked damaging the sector, which relies on overseas workers and benefits from the tariff-free single market.

The future success of the sector could therefore depend on its ability to persuade government to fight its corner when negotiating exit terms with the EU, designers said.

Architect Amanda Levete said that a manifesto for design could present the sector as an exemplary industry that showed the benefits of openness and international exchange.

Dezeen's Brexit Design Summit
Disegno founder Johanna Agerman Ross (left) and industrial designer Paul Priestman also participated in the debate

"I like the idea of a manifesto because it's urgent and it's quick," she said. "It's about using our world as a case study, because it clearly has flourished culturally and economically."

She added: "We have to make the case about why diversity [of the workforce] is so good for the profession and how mutually beneficial it is and how it's generated value in the economy."

"We should produce a list of 10 pragmatic points," agreed Deyan Sudjic, saying that any manifesto should not simply be a lobbying document but should have "a larger cultural ambition".

Design writer and curator Max Fraser, who helped Dezeen organise the summit and suggested the idea of a manifesto, said: "We can sit here and moan about it amongst ourselves or we can try and do something positive. Perhaps we can create some sort of a manifesto for our industry so that we can steer the exit from EU in a way that we want as an industry.

"So what can we get out of the transition?" Fraser added. "What do we need as an industry? What do we want to keep, what do we want to change, what are the opportunities? And most importantly what messages do we want to send to our government at the end of it?"

Update: the Brexit Design Manifesto was launched in September 2016. It is a message to the UK government about the importance of the architecture and design sector. To read the full manifesto and find out how to sign, visit

  • Owens

    Once again the all-important “designer” can’t do a damn thing without someone else’s money.

    • marcusfairs

      I’m not sure what your point is Owens. The client-supplier relationship in architecture and design is no different from any other business sector in that regard.

      • Exactly, so why is the RIBA laughably making a special case for exemption from free movement restrictions for creative types? What a joke! The whole point of free movement is a scam to drive salaries down and return more profit for the filthy rich British employers so they can pay their kids’ private education university fees.

        Mandelson allowed free movement without the seven years grace period from 2004, in exchange for the CBI’s support for his minimum wage policy that he and Alastair Campbell could trumpet to placate the left wing, which was outraged by the scrapping of Clause IV.

  • john

    Architecture and design are intrinsicly connected with “elitism”. And could it really be different? What makes the woodworker to get up in the morning and work in a very sophisticated piece is the fact that he is being paid well for it.

    If you want a thing that works, you hire an engineer. If you want a thing that works and is aesthetically pleasing, well made and comfortable, you hire and architect or a designer.

    • Yes but if you pay peanuts for that you get cheap labour. The value an architect’s skill adds to property is grotesquely out of proportion to their remuneration, and even then their greedy employers won’t even cancel a portion of the student debt necessary to furnish them with adequate human capital, or ‘livestock’ in their world.

      Architecture students, get out of the UK. Go to better, cheaper, more civilised countries for your education!

      • Anna from Dezeen

        Hi Skidmarx,

        I think you’ll find that there are very few architects across the UK who get paid as much as their equivalents in the other professions – it’s not a field people generally go into to get rich.

        There’s obvious exceptions of well-known firms that are very profitable, but this is an industry that includes hundreds of small businesses and solo-practitioners.


  • Dbz123

    I would like to give some good advice but right now I can only say something sarcastic. How does making a manifesto not sound elitist? In the normal world that is what people do to communicate their ideas, right? Write some highbrow, unintelligible gibberish.

    Every time designers get together the answer always is a manifesto or that they are not understood. Maybe they should try understanding the people they claim they want to help.

    • common people

      So far their manifesto has not been written. Why do you assume it will be unintelligible? Also what makes you think designers don’t understand other people? It is in fact a major part of their work. Speaking with clients, researching user behaviour, communicating with different professions …

      There is a group of people that label everyone with an academic background as “elitist”. I guess that’s what you get when charging insane university fees that make education indeed exclusive.

    • marcusfairs

      The point is to write a manifesto that explains how the architecture and design sector benefits the UK, and then set out what the sector needs in order to carry on doing that post Brexit. Highbrow, unintelligible gibberish it certainly won’t be.

      We did discuss whether or not “manifesto” was the right word as it does have certain connotations, but I think it’s the best one to explain what we’re trying to achieve. We are certainly open to positive feedback as to how to make it better though.

      • dbz123

        Thank you for responding to my post. My point about a manifesto is that only someone who is interested will read it. If you are trying to reach out to people who do not understand the value of design, writing a document (which might not be read) about a subject which most might not understand in the context of Brexit (which has divided the UK) I think might be a challenge. From what I see here in the US, designers and architects engage with the general public at the local level, i.e. meetings in the town hall. This is for the design of a building or for public art events. Meanwhile in other countries such as Germany architects have constant gallery exhibits of their works which helps to engage with the public. What I’m getting at is that is you want people to hear what you have to say you have to go where they are and not wait for them to come to you. Maybe having a series of events across the country would do more than a written document which people can choose not to read.

        • marcusfairs

          Maybe you’re right but we felt that we had to do something that was achievable in a short time frame, and that could make use of Dezeen’s power as a media platform. That’s why we decided on a written manifesto. Hopefully people can then rally behind that and help spread the word – or at least debate its merits like we’re doing here. Of course meetings across the country would be great so if there are any volunteers to organise them please get in touch!

          • Direct action obviously. Go and occupy buildings your supporters have designed, chain yourselves to their railings and security fences, be dragged away peacefully by the police all in the name of… architecture!?

            For heaven’s sake the bourgeois are reaching new echelons of self-indulgence. Don’t you have any real moral cause to fight for other than your narcissistic self-interest? Most of the worst crime ridden sink-estate ghettoes in the UK were DESIGNED BY ARCHITECTS!

            In the 1970s architects marched through central London against nuclear arms for peace, although it must be said, war and destruction is good for our business.

          • Anna from Dezeen

            Skidmarx, what would you suggest as positive action to help secure a group of industries that together generate £10 million an hour for the UK economy? We’re not just talking about architecture here.

            What would direct action actually achieve other than further disruption? Should we all do nothing because some estates have been poorly design or managed over the years?

            Yes, everyone involved in this wants to find a way for the design sectors to get something positive out of Brexit, because it’s their interest. But a thriving design industry has a significant impact on the UK’s economy too.


  • Soooooooo

    Well do it then.

    • Piers Mansfield

      I personally would welcome designers, press, manufacturers and the public in general to petition the government. What a better way to stand united and plot a way forward. Making ourselves relevant and useful is what will set us apart from previous generations. It’s time to focus on how we can make a difference.

      • What a marvellous own goal. Are you currently useless and irrelevant ? Working on some Russian millionaire’s luxury indoor golf course in Hertfordshire perhaps?

        • Ross Bryant

          Hi Skidmarx, I don’t really see your point here. This is a forum to discuss positive action that the architecture and design community can take in light of the Brexit result.

          Do you have anything positive to contribute to the discussion?

  • Paul Iddon

    Dear Dezeen, good to see the attitude from the attendees but there is a dimension missing: other cities that have a smaller but just as passionate design community.

    There is plenty of activity in the architecture scene up here in Manchester, plus the city voted remain, so not so different to London. We at Manchester Architects have the largest, most active architect community outside of 66PP itself.

    In fact we put on more events than any other group in the UK apart from RIBA HQ. Perhaps you could come and talk to us? You would be most welcome. It would also help dispel the myth of a London-centric media! We would also be delighted to take part in your debates and give a broader perspective.

    Our very recent Awards hosted 320 architects from 87 practices. Please see here:

    You can contact MA at my mail address:

    • Yes Paul, but kindly refer to Paul Finch’s BD article on the sound reasons for Brexit before you, like Jane Duncan, presume to speak for a majority of architects.

      I firmly believe Leavers are the majority in architecture, and the Remainers are typically the capital-centric rumps of New Labour, but I challenge you to prove me wrong. Simply ask the RIBA to canvass the membership to establish the truth of how it voted.

    • marcusfairs

      Thanks Paul, I’m on holiday this week but someone from the team will be in touch!

  • Mal

    The pictures really speak volumes in this case. Words ‘inclusivity blah blah’ but all the attendees are white.

    • Bethan Ryder

      So depressing to read so much negative criticism when the intention is to ensure that Britain still somehow thrives in the future (and you’re right that needs to be the whole of Britain, not just London). It’s a first step towards a document that hopefully is all-inclusive and fights for the rules, regulations and trading agreements etc required to ensure Britain and its design and architecture sector continues to thrive in the future.

      It’s the start of a dialogue, and its open to others to contribute any positive thoughts and ideas. It doesn’t matter if you voted Leave or Remain, the important thing here is to negotiate the best policies for the industry and education/training institutions in the future.