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Atom Design Freight

Design matters: working it out

By The Drum | Administrator

July 31, 2008 | 7 min read

When budgets are tight, design is often one of the first areas to be overlooked. But by investing properly in good design and by working closely with their agencies throughout tough times, clients can keep their business in shape to capitalise while other

The Drum has ridden recessions before and many of our readers have navigated through them successfully too, and the first lesson that should have been learnt is that throwing the baby out with the bathwater could turn out to be commercial suicide.

“In times of economic difficulty the need for effective communication doesn’t decrease, it increases,” argues Freight’s Adrian Searle.

“Strategy may need to change but the need for investment doesn’t. However, designers need to work harder to justify that investment, explaining the benefits as clearly and persuasively as possible. However, it’s also an opportunity. When the competition is taking a hammering there’s a great chance to steal market share.”

When the economic climate dictates a price squeeze, the value of good design increases, he believes, as points of differentiation need to be emphasised.

Measurable

“Design covers a range of marketing communications activity,” says Searle, “where some projects are more measurable than others. Packaging design is one of the best – you put new packaging on the shelves and, unless the price has changed, sales go up or down,” he says.

“Softer or longer term projects, more focused on brand building, are more difficult to gauge and require a degree of vision; but there are always ways to gain feedback and most design companies can advise clients on measurability.

“Still, design should always make a difference, sometimes small, sometimes large. That’s what clients invest in. The success of a project isn’t always in the designer’s hands but that’s the commercial benefit we offer. It’s up to us to communicate this to our clients.”

Good Creative’s co-founder Chris Lumsden agrees that clients should always be investing in good design, tempered with a pragmatic look at budgets and how they’re spent.

“I wouldn’t say it was more vital than it was previously, but maintaining a profile now will pay dividends when we emerge into brighter economic times,” he says.

“There’s no set formula or standard yardstick, but clients should always be looking for a return on their design investment and they should be thinking about it at the briefing stage. Despite the myth, design is as measurable as any other discipline, providing you can isolate its effect from other activity. Organisations like the Design Business Association are doing a great job honouring good work with their Design Effectiveness Awards.”

Yet he maintains that clients should work closely with their design teams at all times, not just when times are tough. “Really good, effective work can only be created when clients fully engage with the process, working as a team with their agencies,” says Lumsden.

Tom McCrorie, creative director at Atom, argues that some clients err by cutting budgets without investing wisely in good design.

“This is a fundamental flaw,” he argues. “Atom is in the fortunate position that our clients realise the value in good design and they know that in order to stay ahead of the competition they need to continue to invest. It seems to me that if the times ahead are bleak then you still need to invest in good design to stay abreast.

“If a product sells, that could be down to how the brochure looks and feels or how slick the packaging is. Design is and should be measurable by its success. If you have just finished that rebrand and you notice that your profit figures are up 10 percent on last year’s, it’s measurable.

“In order for good design to make a difference it has to be seen to be working and have a purpose. Everything around us is designed, but good design makes the difference between a product’s success, or its ultimate demise.”

Andrew Wolffe, managing director of Pointsize Wolffe and Co, underlines the importance of design, which assists clients in differentiating themselves from competitors.

Heady combination

“If you want to stand out from the crowd, even in a challenging market, you need to invest in design. I have always seen design as one of many tools to ensure success of a product or service,” he says.

“Advertising and PR can have equally significant impact and the heady combination of good advertising, well considered branding or design and an integrated PR campaign can reap huge rewards for clients.”

Wolffe, like Lumsden, also maintains that the key to successful design is often a close working relationship between buyer and supplier.

“Clients should always work closely with designers in good times or bad. Close client designer relationship in a tough market means that the conversation about a reduced budget is made easier. Both parties understand the pressure and maybe the designer will have some ideas that can help the budgetary pressure.

“Good design can, of course, make a difference... but a good designer with a commercial head can make a bigger difference. Combine great creativity with commercial nous and you’ve got a winning combination.”

Malcolm Stewart, creative director, Tayburn says investment in design is crucial, simply because “everyone needs a reason to buy,” he argues.

“If you don’t have a point of difference, you’re a commodity. If you’re a commodity then you have to compete on price. And in tougher economic times you’re therefore likely to suffer.

“At Tayburn our whole business is based on creating ideas that make a difference. So we work very closely with our clients to find their point of difference and then give them stories to talk about.

“For instance, our work with Tenon – the top 10 UK accountancy firm who focus on entrepreneurs – set them apart from their competition, has helped increase their turnover and profit substantially and won them B2B brand of the year beating Google and Blackberry.

“With ICS, the home learning business, we revitalised the company’s proposition to make clear the personal benefits of learning something new or adding to your qualifications, in a fresher, more aspirational way than their competitors, which attracted new customers and engaged its staff. The results were an increase in response rate of 20 percent and a reduction in the ‘cost per course enrolment’ by a fifth.”

Turkeys

It could be argued that anything other than a ringing endorsement of the merits of design from design agencies, especially at a time when budgets are being tightened across the board, would be the public relations equivalent of turkeys voting for Christmas, but the logic of the collective position of designers is persuasive, logical and hard to ignore.

To steal the riff of our friend with the braces, Mr Gekko, it seems unanimously agreed that in times of economic crunch, “design…is good. Design works. Design is right.” And we have stood on this precipice before.

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