Design Review

By The Drum | Administrator

August 1, 2006 | 8 min read

Clients - they are a law onto themselves aren’t they? A noble and proud breed that for many are difficult to understand. As budgets get tighter, and more attention is paid to the bottom line, things are becoming that little bit more fraught in the agency/client partnership

Sometimes people like to have a bit of a moan and get things that have been annoying them off their chest. We all like to do it from time to time. Then we can get on with the job at hand.

So in light of this and the increasingly fractured relationship between clients and agencies, Adline took time out to speak to those in the design industry to find out what gets their goat; which aspects of their jobs or the industry as a whole really annoy them.

One of the responses to this question was the notion that clients (yip, them again) simply don’t understand the value of good design. A contentious issue or what?

Let’s have the opinion of Martin Carr from Manchester-based True North, to get the debate started: \"I think that the general problem isn’t actually with clients, the problem lies with the design industry in the regions. Nothing has changed in the past five years since we set up, perhaps with the exception of D&AD and the DBA coming out to the regions. There is a huge gap between the people who are good and those who just want to get the work out the door so that the client can pay them.\"

He continues: \"I just don’t think that design is valued by clients in the regions. I think now what is happening is that those clients who actually do understand what design can do for their business and are willing to pay for it are going to London because they can’t find the same value in the regions. That just leaves you with people who don’t understand it and in return aren’t getting the best work from their agencies.

\"In turn it means that agencies don’t have the confidence and pride in what they are doing and we get some very average work coming out of the area.\"

A forthright view that I’m sure many of Adline’s readers will agree with. However, some don’t share Carr’s views. Step forward Phil Dean at Thompson Design, who believes that in this day and age the clients that Thompson works with understand the value that design can bring to a business. He comments: \"By and large I would say that clients do come to us because they know what we do and they understand the value of design. But I wouldn’t say that about every client I have met along the way.

\"But these days enlightened clients are not few and far between. Bigger clients do understand the need for design. I would say the more difficult clients are normally medium sized businesses or those within the public sector.

\"I think what is becoming more evident and what clients are really looking for in this day and age is more physical evidence that the work we are doing for them is actually returning a benefit to their business. It’s not just simply about ROI though, it is also approaching their business with a strategic approach that is important.\"

So, clients are not only looking for work to look good but they are also becoming increasingly aware of the effect it will have on the bottom line of the business.

Manchester-based Glorious is less than a year old, but it is already finding this to be true. However, what gets managing director Scott McCubbin’s goat is the fact that sometimes clients (those in the regions) will not pay the going rate for design. He states, rather fervently it must be added: \"One of the bigger problems that we are facing right now is people not appreciating that if they spend a decent amount of money then they will get good results.

\"What we are also finding is that businesses are bringing in mediators who don’t actually know what they are doing. I would say that over the past six months we have been burnt by that kind of instance where the client doesn’t know what they want; you present it and they come back saying they don’t know whether they are going to go ahead with the project because they don’t have the confidence in appointing someone.\"

So a lack of confidence appears to be quite a large concern when it comes to clients appointing an agency. It is something that Manchester-based Funnel is certainly finding. Partner at the agency Bill Green comments: \"As with all things, some do, some don\'t. We find that most clients tend to appreciate and value design in surface measures only.

\"Our experience has shown that when a client tends to go below the design surface, they end up way out of depth on the finer issues of what makes good design. I personally think the trouble on the whole is not one of the client appreciating value, they largely do, but the client having confidence with the agency.

\"As designers, we are there to advise on design, as well as do design, but ultimately to guide them through the whole process.

\"An agency working with a client that does appreciate the value of design usually ends up providing a response that exceeds the client’s expectations.\"

So how do you find the right client, who truly understands what the agency can deliver and the benefit that it will bring to the business as a whole? For Alistair Sim, partner at Love Creative, one of the most important aspects in the client/agency partnership is to make sure that the chemistry is spot on. He states: \"The way we seek out clients is to make sure that they have the right cultural fit with us and have the same values and belief systems.

\"But saying that, what an agency wants from a client can be a very different thing to what a client wants from an agency. I think really both have to have a clear understanding of one and other’s businesses and take it from there. Good design should create a happy company, a happy board and happy consumers and having enlightened clients who understand that makes the process a whole lot easier.\"

Carr agrees that there has to be a right fit between agency and clients. However, many of his clients are based in London, and this is for him worrying for the industry as a whole. He remarks: \"What we tend to find these days are that the clients we want to work with, who understand what we are doing, are clients that are based in London. And that is good for us. But it is worrying for the design industry as a whole because I don’t think that there is that much of a community spirit in the industry and a collective body of work that we can all be proud of.\"

For Carr, the root of the problem lies with the design industry instead of clients, and he is unsure whether this problem can be rectified any time soon: \"The industry as a whole hasn’t done much to drive itself forward. We are still under the thumb of clients. I suppose I would like this industry to really show the value of the business to clients and a wider audience and show that design really can be at the root of the problem.\"

Sim is likewise cautious when it comes to the future, especially when he believes that clients closer to home can’t recognise the value of good design. He comments: \"British design is recognised and respected throughout the world from New York to Singapore to Sydney. Sometimes I find it difficult to deal with the fact that a client ten miles down the road can’t actually recognise that and understand and pay the value of what our work is worth.\"

So it would seem this never-ending saga will roll on. But recognising the problem is one step towards addressing it. And that can only be a good thing for the entire industry.


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