Society can benefit from tough times in design

We hear some fairly hairy stories about design groups across most sectors as they scramble to win work at a time when client budgets are low, workloads and schedules unpredictable and competition for projects fierce.

It’s not an easy time, for while many consultancies have never been busier, much of that activity is to do with putting together client presentations and preparing pitches. And, with predictions by the likes of Sir Martin Sorrell that global recovery is unlikely until 2004, the next six months look set to be challenging.

The focus of many a big group has been on internal wranglings as the consolidation of design stablemates remains high on the agenda, reportedly working better for some, such as WPP Group’s Enterprise IG, than for others, like Cordiant Communications Group-owned Fitch London with its spate of sudden management changes. For the independents, the main concern is simply winning enough work to keep the team going. Somewhere along the line for both there’s the aim of producing great work.

At the same time, though, some consultancy heads claim that, financially, they’ve had the best year ever. The difference between many of these and their rivals is that they have got their overheads under control, in terms of property costs, staffing and salaries, having heeded the warnings of industry experts over the past couple of years. But for others the key has been in finding new markets for their skills. The best aspect of the latter is that those new markets often centre on social issues rather than the overtly business concerns of hitting financial targets and selling more goods and services.

Take transport. This is undoubtedly one of the key concerns of people across the UK and an area where design in all its manifestations can help. A series of initiatives this week, backed by the likes of the Design Council and the Commission for Integrated Transport, can only draw attention to design’s potential to help alleviate some of those ills. Communication, environments and vehicles are all part of the mix.

This awareness could, in turn, lead to work for consultancies in a similar way to that in which The Sorrell Foundation and others became involved in public education and the National Health Service. John and Frances Sorrell’s Joinedupdesignforschools project has already put a number of consultancies into a new arena.

But it is not just designers who benefit from such ventures. Society also wins. And with a bit of luck this fresh approach to the public sector will yield better quality creative work than is currently the norm. We all deserve that and welcome these initiatives.

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