Design quality is the important element

As we reach the final judging stages for the 1999 Design Week Awards, thoughts turn to the ways in which design groups present their work. An exquisite letterhead will, for example, probably be mounted lovingly on to boards, while the elements of a big corporate identity are likely to be slung unceremoniously into a plastic folder, leaving the judges to pick their way through brochures, videos, T-shirts and worse.

The way submissions are treated often depends on the size of consultancy, and size is not always an advantage. The bigger the consultancy, the more likely it is that a junior will be called upon to prepare awards entries, yet the way entries are presented says a lot about its attitudes.

Skilled design judges usually see through a presentation to find the essential quality of the work. They will seek out a strong idea, and a design appropriate for its market which is well executed.

But they are assessing the output of their peers, and are up to speed on the pressures and constraints behind a project. Clients faced with the same presentation might not be so generous. Nor can you expect them to be impressed by piles of lookalike brochures or identical spiels about “out-of-the-box thinking” and “strategic” approaches.

If design is about “making a difference”, to use another hackneyed phrase, and there are any number of equally able design groups around, you should be expressing your particular personality to clients, honestly and without hollow gimmickry.

Last week, Clive Grinyer of Tag McLaren Audio urged product designers to get back to selling great design ideas to clients rather than pushing themselves purely on the strength of their engineering or implementation services (DW 4 December). His advice is equally valid for design groups in other disciplines, which have lost the plot over the real contribution design can make. It’s all very well having the skill to roll out a branding or retail concept, but if the design misses its mark you’re selling yourself and the client short.

Still on presentation, this year’s Design Week Awards judges came up with a great suggestion for interior and exhibition designers. Given that they are creating three-dimensional environments, why not use a 3D medium such as video to present the scheme. Photographic images tend to distort a scheme or sell it short, unless the audience has visited the project. Clients rarely have.

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