Unilever appointment could create new model

It was a great day for design when Unilever brand Dove appointed Richard Seymour as external director of design on its Dove brand (DW 3 March). Apart from reaffirming the potential of the product design community to influence more than just the physical aspects of a product or brand, it shows a commitment to design by Unilever, which has been one of the more impenetrable client companies in the business.

Like its rival Procter & Gamble, Unilever holds the fortunes of many a design group in its hands as it commissions work across its massive brand portfolio. But historically, both it and P&G have held consultancies at a distance, not encouraging the ‘partnership’ arrangement that has helped other clients get the best out of their design consultancies.

Of course, the situation with Dove isn’t new. Seymour remains an external design advisor to Lever Fabergé and outgoing Pentagram partner John McConnell continues to work in a similar capacity with department store chain John Lewis Partnership. Meanwhile, the legacy of Mary Lewis’s stint as an external creative director at Marks & Spencer is reflected in this year’s Design Week Awards win for the retailer’s in-house team for its steam iron packs (DW 3 March).

However, our VoxPop contributors have highlighted other businesses that could do with a boost via top-level design intervention. Some are light-hearted suggestions, but all are based on the idea that it’s not just about the way things look and feel, it’s about creating commercial advantage through the total customer experience.

To get the best results, of course, a designer needs to be on the board. VoxPop contributor Raymond Turner knows this well, having worked on the inside of BAA for many years and argued design’s corner on massive projects such as Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5.

But, like any non-executive director, an external advisor has a different dimension to add, bringing first-hand experience of other industries to the table. This is the kind of argument the Design Council has been making to business for the past few years, hopefully with some success.

It would be great to see Seymour strengthening his foothold within Unilever to extend his influence beyond Dove. In an ideal world, he’ll prove himself quickly with the toiletries brand and make his way up to the board of the parent company – or, at least, pave the way for someone else from design to assume a non-executive director role.

Congratulations to Unilever for giving Seymour the chance. Let’s hope the experience creates a new model for both clients and consultancies to build on.

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