Beauty’s debt to creativity

Creative thinking, the foundation of brand success in beauty, is threatened by proposed changes to the school curriculum in the UK, argues Steve Gibbons

Gibbons says Gove fails to inspire the next generation of creative talent

Creative thinking, the foundation of brand success in beauty, is threatened by proposed changes to the school curriculum in the UK, argues Steve Gibbons

The beauty industry has above all else built its brands by weaving a rich tapestry of stories that resonates with its consumers. And it’s in part the designer who has found himself in the role of both storywriter (encapsulating women’s and men’s dreams of desire, status and the search for eternal youth) and storyteller (by translating those stories into compelling visual and brand identities).

As Mark Tungate questions in his brilliant book Branded Beauty, do anti-ageing creams reduce wrinkles? The answer is yes. But in a way that is barely significant; the consumer is no fool. So what exactly is it that these products are offering? “Do they provide hope, comfort...?” Tungate asks. Again the answer is, of course, yes.

The beauty industry has seen a succession of brilliant individuals who have pioneered and driven its growth. But it is their creative minds and those of their collaborative designers and advertising professionals that have built the dreams that have formed the very basis of the beauty industry. It’s not the stuff that’s in the bottles, or at least it’s only partly what’s in the bottles.

Steve Gibbons, managing director, Dew Gibbons

What’s true for skin care is even more so for fine fragrance. We construct entire worlds based on creative inspiration, poetry and flights of fancy. It’s this creativity that forms and builds the brands that Euromonitor suggests are globally worth US$350bn a year. So, short of just blowing designers’ trumpets, what exactly is my beef?

Well, last year Dew Gibbons along with many other creative companies and individuals in the UK pledged its support to the IncludeDesign campaign. IncludeDesign had two ambitions: firstly to ensure that art and design subjects were included in the core of young people’s education and, secondly, to avoid a two tier system where art and design subjects are perceived as second-rate qualifications. The backdrop to this was UK Education Secretary Michael Gove’s suggested amendments to the school curriculum with the creation of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) that risked the arts (and music) being squeezed out of the school curriculum entirely.

In what was seen at the time (the beginning of February) as a U-turn, the Secretary of State for Education announced that he was abandoning the EBacc. Although this was a significant victory for the IncludeDesign campaign (and many others besides), the lingering suspicion that Michael Gove simply doesn’t see the value of creativity in a curriculum framed largely around learning from rote still persists.

In March, a group of 100 professors wrote an open letter to The Independent and The Telegraph newspapers in which they stated: “The proposed curriculum consists of endless lists of spellings, facts and rules. This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem

solving, critical understanding and creativity… memorisation and recall are being valued over understanding and inquiry.”

Clearly this is of significance far beyond the beauty industry. But given that the beauty industry is built fundamentally on the need to tell stories and build dreams all requiring the right-brained skills that a broader education encourages, this is of fundamental importance.

The design industry continues to campaign for the inclusion of creative subjects alongside the five pillars of maths, English, sciences, languages and the humanities. Even by the government’s own calculation, the creative industries in the UK are reckoned to be worth £36bn a year, a worth that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t providing support and creating additional wealth for the broader economy, including of course the beauty industry.

From the perspective of the creative industries, the curriculum that is currently proposed isn’t fit for purpose. It looks back to how the world once was, not to how the world is now and less still to how it will be in the future.

Quoting loosely from a recent Hansard report on a parliamentary debate on the subject, there are three principal concerns. Firstly a narrowing of focus: the proposed curriculum turns the clock back to the 1950s and early 60s (where I found little inspiration in primary education), when the focus of design was on basic craft and household maintenance skills. Secondly there’s a lack of rigour and challenge; we risk alienating the most brilliant students with an assumption that art and design are purely for the academically weaker students. Thirdly there’s a reduction in value, status and consequently popularity. I can still recall the stigma attached to those of us who couldn’t hack Latin and were condemned to the iniquity of making candlestick holders taught by a technician who treated the subject as a punishment.

Very few of my generation found their way into the creative industries (not that it really existed back then), but the generation that has followed after me had their interest ignited by the optimism implicit in a far more enlightened curriculum. Let’s not now turn the clock back. Make no mistake – if we do, we’ll be swept aside by the emergent world that sees itself moving from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge based one, just as the UK will oddly be moving in the opposite direction.

By the time you read this it’s likely to be too late, as consultation for the new curriculum closed on 16 April. Let’s hope that Michael Gove saw sense and chose to inspire the next generation of talent that follows on from those that have given the UK the world leading creative reputation that it deserves.