Designer    People 05 Apr 2018

2017’s ‘Services to the Industry’ winner, Dids Macdonald discusses design, originality and ACID

We spoke to industry-renowned Dids Macdonald, Founder and CEO of ACID and recipient of 2017’s Designer Kitchen & Bathroom ‘Services to the Industry’ award…

In essence, what does ACID do?

ACID is the UK’s leading design and intellectual property campaigning organisation. Most notably, our main ‘campaign win’ was making intentional infringement of a registered design a crime, and this was enshrined in the IP Act of 2014. We are a forward-thinking trade association for designers and manufacturers; a not-for-profit organisation funded by membership fees – a hard hitting community communicating a strong zero tolerance of IP theft message.  Our aim is to provide practical tips, advice and guidelines to help our members protect their intellectual property, to achieve growth through a proactive IP strategy.

To retain the integrity of our membership, all potential members must be designers or have a design capability and the majority of their products must be designed either in-house or by commissioned designers. We also welcome manufacturers to join ACID who have entered into licence agreements with freelance designers, in which the intellectual property rights are assigned to the manufacturer. The cornerstones of our remit are education and awareness, deterrence, prevention, support when things go wrong and consistent campaigning about IP respect, ethics and compliance.

What encouraged you to start ACID?

Along with a partner, I ran an interior design business and then created several product ranges for the top end interior design market – it was a small, niche but global company and it was a great success. But it came with a huge problem: theft. Every new design was knocked off by larger companies without any hope of redress. Like the vast majority of Britain’s 500,000 design companies, we were a tiny outfit and not in a position to take on the unscrupulous thieves and copycats. We had no idea where to start. So, in the late 90’s I met an IP lawyer who helped me come up with another idea: to create a plan to help David fight Goliath.

Today ACID represents thousands of designers.  We’re here to help the good guys defeat the bad and also promote design originality as a real route to growth for the creator, not design thieves! There have been thousands of successful settlements on behalf of members and over 4,000 mediations. We have just created a new website with an aggressive naming and shaming campaign. But there is a massive amount of work to be done. We need to be a united voice across all design sectors!

Where does intellectual property theft rank in the list of worries for the design industry?

I think there are many challenges at the moment for SMEs and the most pressing is the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. This in turn, means that clients may be taking much longer to make buying decisions. A real concern too, is the potential loss of EU unregistered design protection across 27 other member states, on which the majority of UK designers rely. Why? Because UK unregistered design right does not cover surface decoration. There is a real worry that the loss of Registered Community and Trade Marks registrations across all EU member states will mean added costs of registering. In a recent survey carried out by ACID 90% said that copying was blatant so there is a real threat of others taking the fast track to market through IP theft with slim chances of cost effective enforcement. Especially in the kitchen and bathroom sector there is a worrying trend that consumers think it is ok to take plans to third parties to produce them less expensively. What few who do this seem to appreciate is that they are infringing the copyright of the designer and could be prosecuted. So, in answer to your question, I think design theft is fairly high on the list of worries for a designer.

Awards and accolades – do they encourage originality in design?

Yes, I think that awards & accolades contribute greatly to raising standards, originality being a key USP. Being able to display a symbol which recognises the high standards needed for a coveted award can be a prestigious addition to other important values such as trust, reliability, quality of design etc.

What do you think is the most original design/trend you have seen recently?

I think across many design disciplines we are seeing increasingly how 3D printing can be used effectively within kitchen and bathroom design, they are now even 3D printing buildings!

However, the downside of this is that IP may be at risk by counterfeiters who seek the fast track to market as there is still no criminal act to enforce unless you have a registered design or trade mark. This is why we are campaigning for criminal provisions for the intentional infringement of an unregistered design as the majority of UK designers rely on both EU and UK unregistered design rights which are created automatically.

Generally? Quartz seems to be replacing granite, R & R focus supported by high tech, maybe copper being replaced by good old brass… hues of blues or strident bolder colours. Tiles making bolder statements, earthy colours replacing white…

How far would you count ‘recycled’ trends and designs (that perhaps originate from a previous era and are now counted as retro or vintage) as being ‘copied’?

That’s an interesting one. There is a massive difference between being inspired and slavish copying. Recycling to create different, new exciting interpretations has made the world go round for ages. What is a copy? Ultimately a Judge decides but I believe it is about the ethics, compliance and respect of the individual designer and also those who commission designs (or in some cases lookalikes). There are many myths and howlers surrounding IP law but most know when they are sailing too close to the wind!

What does it mean to you to have received the Designer Kitchen & Bathroom Award’s ‘Services to the Industry Award’?

A huge amount and I am absolutely delighted. IP isn’t necessarily the sexiest of subjects but it is so important for kitchen and design brands. I have worked with a lot of kitchen designers whose work has been ripped off and there are many heart-breaking stories out there. Somehow there are many who think it is ok to steal designs and ideas but the bottom line is that it is theft, in the same way as the theft of a wallet or money which is a criminal offence. I hope that I have helped some create a proactive IP strategy because it is only by communicating an anti-copying policy in a robust way that designers can feel more empowered. Being honoured ramps up awareness of the importance of IP protection to achieve and maintain growth in this sector.

Designing, delivering and installing a beautiful kitchen or bathroom takes creative skill, excellence and, usually, years of experience. It is crucial that the originality created by some of the sector’s great designers is recognised, respected and acknowledged for what it is.

The UK’s kitchen and bathroom designers in this sector hold a key to growth. It is their ideas that will capture the customers and generate the income that builds company strength and creates employment. It matters that those innovators have a business environment which supports development of their ideas, that encourages continued innovation and that offers help to translate ideas into reality and value. However, we need a much more robust and accessible system of IP redress when things go wrong, so there is much work still to be done!