There were lots of good reasons to go and work for GDS - the assembled talent, the top leadership, the regular hours, the paraphenalia - and probably, above all that it represents the last great web problem.
(We know how to do lots of things on the web - publishing, retail, sharing, cats - but no-one's yet worked out how to do public services really well. I missed the big dotcom moments, I missed the BBC moment, I missed social networking, this felt like the last chance to work on a really big web poblem.)
But part of the reason was, also, some how, atmospheric. There was just something in the air about British designers solving big problems.
The Kenneth Grange exhbition had just been on at the Design Museum. We had a family cycle ride there.
It was inspiring, Grange's work showed you what good, ambitious British design could be like. That you could do interesting stuff at scale.
That summer was also the anniversary of the Festival of Britain. You don't need to hear more about that.
And, I came across this book. A history of the Design Research Unit:
It seemed relevant and appealing for a few reasons.
The preface says this about the DRU:
Formed in London in 1942, the Design Research Unit was the first consultancy in Britain to bring together expertise in architecture, graphics and industrial design. They pioneered a model for multidiscinplinary practice with an approach that was shaped by inter-war developments in artistic discourse and post-war trends in industry and communication; in particular the accelerated demand for corporate design...
...Initially under the charge of the writer Herbert Read and operating from offices shared with Mass Observation, the Design Research Unit was founded by advertising executive and patron of contemporary art Marcus Brumwell with designers Misha Black and Milner Gray. Following Read's essay, Art and Industry and the literature of International Constructivism the group outlined an intent to combine creative intelligence with technical research into materials and markets, seeking to bring 'artists and designers into productive relation with scientists and technologists.'
DRU was a nexus of all sorts of interesting stuff.
(Come to think of it, his description of how artist groups like Unit One might operate might be a good brief for the immediate future of RIG: "Practical things they can do in common: they can have a central office, an information bureau where the enquirer can find out about the nature of the works done by members of the group, their whereabouts and prices...They can hold joint exhibitions and share expenses connected with such exhibitions.")
They shared offices with Mass Observation and a connection via the sponsorship of Marcus Brumwell and the Advertising Services Guild ("a group of medium-scale companies that counteracted a diminishing wartime market by pooling contacts and skills")
Richard and Su Rogers were briefly part of DRU (Su Rogers was Brumwell's daugther and they designed a lovely extension for their Marylebone offices. It looked like this:
It looks like this now, less good:
They anticipated all sorts of contemporary design/marketing chat:
And, of course, the DRU designers made much of the world I grew up in, and made it better: Watneys pubs, ICI, City of Westminster street signs, the British Rail identity.
(And, personally, I'm getting fascinated by Brumwell, an adguy at the centre of so much interesting thinking, to be so connected to, and to recognise the value of so much art, design and architecture, and to have worked in advertising when it was more about useful explanation than empty branding. I'm going to look into him more.)
Anyway. To get back to my point. The GDS opportunity came along when all this stuff was in the air; DRU, the Festival of Britain, Kenneth Grange, Mass Observation. And I think they're useful and valid inspiration. I know it's easy to get trapped in nostalgia for those times and let's not forget that BR were terrible, despite having good corporate ID but, personally, I find all that more inspiring than the usual West Coast shininess. They seized a particular moment - post-war reconstruction - and did great things in new ways.
If we can do a fraction of that I'd be very happy.