Focus: You Know Where You Can Stick These (and It's Not in My Museum) ; Now That the Chairman Has Quit, the Design Museum Is in Serious Trouble, Says Stephen Bayley, in a Frank Personal Account of a Row That Started with Flowers

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James Dyson has left a vacuum at the top of the Design Museum. Chairmen should not resign. It is rather as if the Queen were to emigrate, and this to be interpreted as a broad-brush condemnation of the country from its titular head. Dyson's high-pressure cyclonic departure has been one of the week's more colourful entertainments, a stylish spat among peacocks (and hens). Of course, it shows some baroque egos in a harsh light, but more interestingly still, it exposes the fugitive meaning of "design".

The Design Museum is the most thoughtful monument remaining from the sometimes meretricious design decade of the Eighties, although its spirit is much older still. It was conceived as an energetic successor to the Design Council, whose own origins go back to a Board of Trade initiative in the Thirties.

But by the late Seventies the Design Council had lost authority and was a fatigued and withered arm of state, putting on shows about innovations in drop-forge casting. By the same time, Terence Conran had made enough money out of another, brighter and tighter version of design - the one he sold in Habitat - to pluck me from the obscurity of a provincial university, a Robin to his Batman, to do his works. Conran generously funded, and I directed, a series of successful design promotions that led to me being the founding director of this unique museum, which Mrs Thatcher opened in 1989. It was in synch with the spirit of the age.

Conran had great style, passion and entrepreneurial genius. He was the first Englishman to make a fortune out of the modern design most of his countrymen found unpalatable. He dislikes the word, but his chummy relationship with the media, plus a genuine love of fine things, presented us with "lifestyle". Very pleasantly so.

James Dyson comes from another strand of English life: the inventor-engineer - and is an unusually successful one by English standards. Like Conran, Dyson does not always resist the temptations of self-mythologising. But each is a person of strong beliefs and real achievements. The world is a better place because of what they have done. They deserve respect and attention.

Unfortunately, Alice Rawsthorn, the current Design Museum director, does not agree. Rawsthorn's appointment three years ago followed a couple of lacklustre incumbents in whose tenure the museum lost its sense of direction and ate money. She has found a new direction, but it is not the one the museum was founded to follow. A very professional woman from designer hell - she talks of an admiration for Prada without apparent irony - Rawsthorn is a driven individual of some power and little charm. Undistracted by marriage, she is a teetotaller. Although she does, the editor of an architectural magazine told me in awed tones, "have a table at the Ivy". …