The presentation of the 2012 Sir Misha Black Awards took place on Thursday 8 March at the Royal College of Art, London.

Introduction by the Chairman, Mary Mullin

Sir Misha Black was a key figure in industrial design and design education in the 60s and 70s. He was a Vice President of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, a Royal Designer for Industry and served both as President of the Design and Industries Association and the then Society of Industrial Artists and Designers – now the Chartered Society of Designers. That is why these bodies are so well represented here this evening.

Sir Misha died in 1977. The organisations to which he had given so much met and agreed that the most fitting tribute to his life and work was to recognise the vital role of teachers of design. So, The Sir Misha Black Medal for Distinguished Services to Design Education was established. In 1996 the Royal Academy of Engineering joined in the Awards in recognition of the growth of design studies in engineering universities and the pioneering work of Sir Misha in this field.

The first Medal was struck by the Royal Mint and presented to Sir William Coldstream by HRH Price Philip in a ceremony in Buckingham Palace in November 1978.

In 2003 the 25th Anniversary was marked by the establishment of the College of Medallists, as a group in its own right, and the Committee may now seek the advice of the College on important matters.

As far as we are aware, this Award is still the only international award honouring design educators and the only Award made collectively by the premier design and engineering institutions in this country. It has been likened to the Nobel Prize for design educators.

The Award for Innovation in Design Education was inaugurated in 1999 to recognise a person who, or a team which, has made an innovative move, clearly demonstrating that the education of designers has been measurably improved and the profile of design education raised. This Award is not necessarily made annually but only when these demanding criteria are reached. This year the Award will be made to the Manchester School of Art to be accepted by Professor David Crow.

When these Awards were established in 1978 the world was a very different place. Fax machines were not in common use until the 1980s, pioneering testing of mobile phones began in 1983 and it was the end of the 1980s before anything remotely resembling today’s lap tops were generally available. Today we all take instant personal global communication for granted but, as our world grows ever more complex we will need even more skilled designers, engineers, planners, architects to predict, plan and produce a safe and inclusive path through the labyrinth  of change. Change which is effecting the social, economic and personal well being of all people regardless of where they live on this planet. Professor Manzini is the great advocate of social innovation leading to sustainability but especially for educating designers to work together to this end. But before the designer comes the teacher. Great teachers are to be treasured because the quality and content of design education today will not only have a direct bearing on the physical world of all our futures but, even more importantly, a permanent influence on whether there will be a safe planet to sustain and nourish our children and grandchildren and generations beyond.

There has been much talk in the UK national press of late about the desire to use criteria, other than the single most important one, which is excellence, for admission to universities. A quote from a recent article in The Telegraph:  “the Government’s response is to appoint someone who wants to punish our universities because they dare to say that they will not lower their world-class standards.” This is the challenging educational environment in which teachers of design must work today and students must travel on the path to graduation. It is unlikely to get easier. In age where there is much self-centredness, and good teachers remain selfless.

The Sir Misha Black Awards Committee honours all design educators. Once a year, it spotlights one or two, who exemplify the highest characteristics of their calling.

Sir Misha Black Award for Innovation in Design Education

I now call on my colleague Malcolm Garrett who represents the Royal Designers for Industry on our Committee, to read the Citation for the Manchester School of Art at Manchester Metropolitan University which will receive the 2012 Sir Misha Black Award for Innovation in Design Education:

“It gives me particular satisfaction to be able to read this citation as I am myself a graduate of Manchester Metropolitan University, or Manchester Polytechnic as it was known in the 1970s when I studied there. As a loyal ex-student I have stayed in contact with the Graphic Design department, and recently have been working with various other departments across the University. I have therefore been given plenty of opportunity to observe the way it has begun to evolve in the last few years.

One man in particular has proved himself to be instrumental in guiding that evolution, and I am delighted to be able to speak in support of Professor David Crow, the Dean and Pro-Vice-Chancellor, who will accept this Award on behalf of Manchester School of Art.

I have known David Crow since he too was a student of Graphic Design at Manchester Polytechnic in the mid-80s. He came to work as an intern at my design company Assorted Images, and so impressed us, both as a person and as a creative talent, that we offered him a job immediately upon his graduation.

It was evident that he was a man destined for great things. Not only a talented designer, with a fresh approach to creative work for commercial clients, he was clearly driven by a passion for the design process itself and was keen to demonstrate the greater role it can play in people’s lives.
As a student, he was already publishing his own magazine, Trouble, dedicated to raising awareness of ethical issues in design. This desire to explore the nature of communication, and to share and discuss it with other designers has informed his entire professional life.

He gave up a successful commercial practice, which he had formed after leaving Assorted Images, when in 1995 he entered education as Head of the Department of Graphic Arts at John Moores University in Liverpool.

He remained there until 2004, when he moved to Manchester and took over as Head of the Department of Design. Here he rapidly set about harnessing the energies within the department, employing new staff and empowering existing staff to deliver to their potential, and thus he began to shape a new department that was ready for the 21st century. In only 5 years he progressed from Head of Department to his current position as Dean, where he has had an immediate, and destined to be lasting, impact.

David Crow is also a man of great humility, and he is the very first to say that he accepts this award in recognition of the work of the entire educational staff at the School. But I also know that without a person such as David Crow at the helm things may not have come to this turning point for the School so quickly and so effectively.

Under Professor Crow’s leadership a radical repositioning of the old school has taken place. In a move to redefine what was a faltering identity, and with a clear aim to restate the original ethos of ‘supporting the creative economy of the region’, David's proposal to revert to the name ‘Manchester School of Art’ was readily adopted. This had been the name given to it in 1838, and was carved in stone in 1880 above the main door of what is the second oldest art school in England, and today is one of largest providers of art and design courses in the UK.

This fundamental rethink has been translated into a 32 million pound programme to create an entirely new building and refurbish others. The new building, scheduled to open in 2013, is designed with direct collaboration between architects and teaching staff to redefine what an art school could be, whilst the regeneration of old buildings ensures their sustainable re-use.

This will establish a new creative environment that addresses the needs of design education in the 21st century, whilst recognising the School’s enviable heritage and International reputation. These carefully thought out facilities will reinforce plans to enhance multidisciplinary and collaborative working through curriculum innovation.
As part of this process the Manchester DESIGN LAB was established. This is a multi-tiered project linked to professionals working in the region: design studios, city galleries, regional councillors, and researchers. In turn these Labs are linked across the University with colleagues in Science, Engineering, Business and Humanities. The school is also an active participant in the annual Manchester Design Symposium, and the first Manchester Fashion Week taking place in April this year.

This demonstrates that educational innovation and enterprise are not confined to capital cities, and that with enlightened public support design education can be an inspiration for urban regeneration, and a complement to City Council initiatives such as Media City and The Sharp Project, which are bringing a renewed focus on the creative industries to Manchester.

Professor Crow and his colleagues are now introducing an exciting new experimental module – the snappily titled ‘Unit X’ – across the entire undergraduate curriculum ensuring every art student takes part in an external facing, multidisciplinary team project in each year of their study. Staff teams have been coordinated to support this collaborative work both inside and outside the School. Plans are in place to link the staff and students at Manchester School of Art with other major institutions along what is now known as ‘The Corridor’, a mile long thoroughfare running from the centre of the city, which is fronted by major galleries, museums & theatres, as well as universities, and the colleges of music and medicine.

It is destined to become a cultural heart of Manchester, and with his regeneration programme David Crow is ensuring that the Manchester School of Art not only takes its rightful place in this mix, but demonstrates leadership and vision in its ongoing development.”

Sir Misha Black Medal for Distinguished Services to Design Education

Now to the 2012 Sir Misha Black Medal for Distinguished Services to Design Education.

I call upon Professor Jeremy Myerson, Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the RCA to deliver the Citation for Professor Ezio Manzini:

“It’s my great pleasure to introduce the recipient of the 2012 Sir Misha Black Medal for Distinguished Services to Design Education, and to say a little bit about why Ezio Manzini is such a worthy winner.

Italy may be the land of elegant, mass-produced design, but Ezio Manzini is most definitely a one-off.

We can describe him as a designer, engineer, architect, author, and outstanding educator. And all of those things are true – a real renaissance man. But above all else, he is one of the most important critical thinkers in design today.

Our constant guide through globalisation, our chief interpreter of how the world is changing, and our design conscience on making it a better place. In keeping with the sinuous shapes of Italian design, Ezio’s academic career has followed a kind of seductive S-bend.

He first came to international prominence as professor of industrial design at the Polytechnic of Milan in the 1980s, talking about the Surface of Things – who could forget his memorable book, The Material of Invention, an indispensible primer for product designers everywhere? Then in the 1990s came Strategic Design, followed in the new millennium by a focus on Service Design, Sustainability and Social Innovation. So, all the S’s. Where Ezio leads, the rest of us follow. You could say he’s always ahead of the S-curve.

Today he’s particularly interested in social innovation as a driver of sustainable changes, and in what design can do to support it. That’s why he coordinates DESIS, an active network of design schools around the world working in the fields of sustainable design and social innovation. A great initiative – and we don’t want him to desist from that! Ezio describes social innovation as ‘driven by diffuse creativity and entrepreneurship, resources that are very abundant in a densely populated and highly connected world – but only if we have the courage to recognise and use them.’

That message about creativity and entrepreneurship he has given to generations of design students, not only in Milan, but all around the world, and especially in China where his influence is now keenly felt. From the San Siro to Shanghai, from the Domus Academy, where he was once director, to Tongji, Ezio Manzini is now carrying the torch for a whole new type of socially engaged design. One capable of ‘scaling down’ to meet real local needs as well as ‘scaling up’ to address big global challenges.

It’s fitting, I think, that Ezio should received the Misha Black Medal in 2012 – on the 40th anniversary of the English language publication, by Thames and Hudson, of Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World. Papanek’s book opened, if you may remember, with the incendiary statement, ‘There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them.’

Papanek then went on:

‘Before (in the good old days) if a person liked killing people, he had to become a general, purchase a coal mine, or else study nuclear physics. Today industrial design has put murder on a mass-production basis.

By designing criminally unsafe automobiles that kill or maim nearly one million people around the world each year, by creating whole species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breath, designers have become a dangerous breed.

And the skills needed in these activities are taught carefully to young people.’

I think that Ezio Manzini’s whole career as an educator has been to make sure that industrial designers do not kill, maim or pollute – that designers take responsibility for their actions and that they are true to their own creativity and entrepreneurial spirit…

That is a fantastic achievement, sustainable in the best sense of the word, and I can think of no better recipient of the 2012 Sir Misha Black Medal.”


This concludes the presentation for this evening. My thanks to everyone involved in organising this ceremony and to those who have taken part: to H.E the Italian Ambassador for being with us: to the Sir Misha Black Awards Committee for their dedication and work: to Wilhelmina Bunn our administrator, for her devotion to our cause; to the Founding Bodies for their support, to our Patrons Rolls Royce and Ideo and to the Ove Arup Foundation. Particular thanks to the Rector, Pro Rector and everyone at the Royal College of Art who help to make this a happy home for the Awards.

Presentation of the 2012 Awards