Autumn 2008, and a chill wind blows through our studio. It is not the lack of insulation tape on our East End sash windows. It’s the realisation that our project list is looking shorter.
Our retail clients began to retreat, introducing in-house designers to do the work we used to do. They felt the purse strings of the public tightening around them, and quite rightly reacted by pulling in theirs.
Suddenly, the internal morale-boosting videos and animations weren’t top priority. They had to focus on keeping their staff employed and their stores open. Other types of design started falling in demand too. Animation, promotional print and online films all vanished from project lists. Print all but disappeared. Digital alternatives survived for a while, then those dropped off as well.
Across the nation, the consensus at the start of this year was ‘stop spending’. Gone were the lavish commissions. Gone were the expensive meals out. Britain was reassessing across the board. Saving became cool. If money was thrown at a luxury, heads shook disapprovingly. Charity shops’ stock diminished as people stitched or held on to last season’s clothes instead of maxing out on new collections.
Likewise, businesses stopped spending, started saving and prepared to weather the storm. Campaigns hung in the balance as chief executives decided whether to go for a new one, recycle and revamp an old one, or drop the idea altogether. Everything promotional was scrutinised and aesthetics were pushed to the back of the queue.
So we waited. And waited. Keenly read the green-shoot articles. Then wept when Woolworths folded. Fear and frugality gradually turned to boredom and frustration.
After months of sitting, saving and hoping for an upturn, survival instinct has now kicked in. People are ready to begin investing in business growth. And first port of call – according to our replenished project list – is their Web presence. Image is back on the agenda, and a stake in the most powerful promotional tool available is a must.
Back in the dot-com boom days, when the Web was new, exciting and pricey, only those with serious financial backing – or a Web-designer friend – could afford a site. These days, the Web is in demand again. It is being recognised as a valuable source of permanent promotion. Invest a few thousand into a well-designed and well-considered website and you have the potential to inform and woo clients while defining your market position. The virtually permanent nature of the website also means that it can pay for itself in time.
Google unsurprisingly plays a big part in a website’s success. Google ranking is perceived as a measure of a company’s validity and professionalism. Web optimisation boosts profiles and positions, so websites are being revamped to work as hard as they possibly can for their owners.
As well as updating, there is demand to simplify the all-singing, all-dancing, overloaded sites from a few years ago. Clear navigation and presentation facilitate an efficient Web experience. This is vital in a world where attention spans last as long as the gap between the next SMS, MMS, e-mail alert, MSN message, Skype or, God forbid, the intercom.
The recession also brought a flurry of start-ups, with individuals taking their redundancy payouts and channelling them into new ventures. To be taken seriously, even a simple holding page is enough while a new business takes flight.
As websites are reassessed and updated, logos and identities are creeping under the magnifying glass too. As part of the considered move to invest in image and compete for business, the need for consistency and clarity within identities has never been more prevalent. Logos are being tweaked, and colour palettes and typefaces defined to ensure that a crystal-clear message is communicated to the market.
Looking back over last year’s work flow, perhaps there’s a relationship emerging between demand for types of design and the health and mood of the economy.
In the boom days, we were happy to spend money on bolstering our profiles through promotional design. When the recession came we capped cash flowing into anything that wasn’t essential.
The stride towards measured investment in Web and digital media signifies a return to prioritising promotion. We want to nurture our businesses to grow along with our bank balances, so when the cash starts flowing again, we can celebrate our survival with the shiniest bells and whistles we can afford.
- From a business point of view, assess how hard your website is working for you, and check if your identity is as up to date and representative of your business as it could be
- From a design point of view, understanding fluctuations in demand for types of design can help steer you through difficult periods – and capitalise on the high times
Jo Kotas is managing director of Bunch