Robert Horne Consultancy of the Year

By The Drum, Administrator

February 25, 2004 | 8 min read

Work by Third Eye and nevis

Confidence within the Scottish design sector is, again, growing. Quite rightly too. In a recent poll conducted by MRUK, in conjunction with the Drum, it was found that almost 85 per cent of clients questioned were more than confident in the standards and services provided by the Scottish design sector.

However, that leaves just over one in seven of the clients polled still unsure of the qualities of the local design market place.

If the market is to continue to recover, then this is just one problem that it must redress – the other major challenges being the winning of business from abroad and the growing need to educate clients to the advantage design, as a business tool, can offer.

Mark Noe, managing director at Third Eye Design, says that, in today’s competitive world, which is dominated by brands, creative thinking can be the most important factor to the bottom line: “Focusing on creativity is the one thing that can help differentiate brands of all sizes and allow organisations to be memorable in all their communications. Not just by using creative professionals, but thinking creatively in the workplace and through business practice. The brands and companies who do not embrace creative thinking will never reach their full potential, and will be eventually overtaken by those who do.”

Neil Cunningham, business development director at nevis, agrees: “We are now seeing organisations valuing and measuring their brand against their overall business growth. Brands are becoming a key part of many organisations’ development, defining what they are, what their offer is and how the market perceives them.

“Externally, marketing is viewed as a valuable asset to an organisation’s business growth and its clients’ commitment to do business with them, which in turn leads to bottom-line increases.”

But the question that many clients still look to seek the answer to is how design can truly be measured for effectiveness? Design makes more of a difference to the bottom line than many might imagine – although less of a difference than is demanded from it in isolation. However, profit must always follow any investment, no matter what that investment may be. Good creative thinking can get a company out of a perception or communication tight spot, but it can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Third Eye Design’s Mark Noe says: “Measuring design effectiveness is dependent on a number of variables. Good design and effectiveness will always go hand in hand, but what many people forget is that graphic design is a commercial business, not an art form. We are commissioned by clients to overcome various business problems, which can be anything from lack of awareness to new product launches, lack of sales or poor internal communications. We use design as a tool to develop innovative solutions to those problems and, therefore, if the problem is overcome, the design has been effective. Achieving results beyond the expectations set out by the client is perhaps the true measure of great design effectiveness. One thing to remember, however, is that design effectiveness is also only truly measurable if the clients are effective themselves at running and operating their own business.”

Susan Sneddon, director of communications at Bright Grey, offers a client’s perspective: “If you have clarity in your brand and you set clear, up-front objectives for the design then measuring its effectiveness will not be a problem.

“Creative thinking channelled in the right way, which is integrated into the business strategy, can have a positive impact on a customer’s impression of your brand.”

Bright Grey, a division of the Royal London Group, was established in September 2001. Working closely with its incumbent design agency, Navyblue, it developed a standout identity and marketing campaign to much acclaim in the market.

“Having used both Scottish and ‘south of the border’ agencies, in my opinion, there are three things that set the Scottish agencies that I have worked with apart from their counterparts,” continues Sneddon. “First, a desire to build a relationship with their clients and secondly a fantastic wealth of young creative talent.

“Finally, not as important but a benefit none the less, they are on your doorstep. PDFs and electronic copy are all well and good but there is no substitute for sitting down with the designer and discussing the creative, without having to think about cost, travel and time.”

Yet, just because an agency is based on the doorstep of a client there should be no expectations that that business will be knocking at the door.

“Being Scottish only means that we are geographically better suited for Scottish companies who require a high level of day-to-day service,” says Noe. “Simply being Scottish is not a reason to use a design firm, as there are many design agencies who are not particularly good. In today’s markets we cannot afford to be so parochial and must consider ourselves as European, or even global, in our outlook. A company or brand should base its buying decisions on who is best for the job. Whether that is an agency in London or in Glasgow shouldn’t really make a difference. The main reason that organisations have gone down south is that the calibre of agency has been historically better. There are many great agencies in Scotland, and Scottish companies should have enough choice to buy in Scotland. We as a design community need to shout much louder to let these companies, and others across the globe, know our capabilities, our understanding of design problems and our overall ambition.”

Education is a recurring theme when talking to agencies about their client relationships, and, often, vice versa. But often agencies have as much to learn as clients in this regard, says Bryan Hook, managing director of Hookson: “All too often the process is unclear to both parties. Just because a client sounds like a heathen, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a valid point. It might just be a case of finding an interpreter.

“Does a diner in a restaurant always know which bottle of wine is the best one to choose for their meal and their palate? Usually not, but a sensitive wine waiter can use the perfect blend of authority and empathy with their customer to help them find just the right one, leaving all parties satisfied and content. The same is true of clients and agencies.”

The creative–client relationship is also important when it comes to truly measuring the effectiveness of design.

Cunningham says: “It’s our job to present design solutions that create effectiveness, not just with the design, but with the strategy and proposition you develop and agree with the client. No longer is there a ‘knee jerk reaction’ to do marketing. All client budgets have become tighter, they are planning harder and developing effective marketing plans. Clients are no longer working and planning in isolation, they are bringing in their external marketing and design resource sooner to be part of the overall planning process.

“But, over and above clear strategy and design objectives, the client has to put time aside to take ownership and measure the effectiveness of their design. If the design has a ‘call to action’, be it a telephone number, e-mail or website, clients must keep records of the overall frequency of contact which comes directly from the piece of design.”

The fact remains, however, that many design buyers still don’t value the creative process enough.

Neil Cunningham continues: “There are still, unfortunately, organisations that use the old-school ‘score card system’, which undervalues design consultancies, and decisions made on that basis are not always the correct one.

“Design buyers often don’t respect that a good idea does not happen overnight.’”

Bright Grey’s Susan Sneddon agrees, but says that now, through education and experience, many clients do understand the creative process ... although many others still don’t: “Those who don’t are not getting full value from the money they are spending. But, on the other hand, agencies have a responsibility to help the client understand the process and to make it a collaboration.”


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