An old scam or a brand-new vision

The Holy Grail of design – a definitive way of measuring and evaluating design’s input to a product’s success – is as elusive today as it has always been. Or so say the cynics. But consultancies are beginning to develop tools which they claim are making headway in measuring the performance of their work.

Whether these are just marketing tools created to increase and differentiate a consultancy’s profile in an increasingly crowded market, or genuine breakthroughs in measuring design effectiveness, is still in question.

What is evident is the ever-increasing importance for clients to put a value on their brands or corporate assets, often to underline strategic approaches to brand exploitation. With the Accounting Standards Board – which last week conducted yet another public meeting to canvass views on the worth of brands on annual accounts – still dithering about which way to proceed, the issue is gathering momentum once more.

Two consultancies – Design House and Henrion Ludlow & Schmidt – have recently launched tools which they claim help marketers and buyers of design to assess current situations and form a set of objectives to aid problem-solving.

Both groups acknowledge that their systems aren’t the answer in measuring design or corporate communication effectiveness, and each product is marketed very carefully in its claims. But each product has been launched as a unique tool for aiding companies in the way they communicate, whether it is directly through design and packaging, as in the case of Design House, or on a more consultancy basis in investigating a company’s corporate culture, as in the case of HLS.

The Design House system is called Brand Value Analysis and the consultancy claims the tool “rigorously assesses the effectiveness of pack design communication across a number of criteria”.

The consultancy uses the tool itself to “provide a framework which helps set focused design objectives that relate directly and specifically to the overall marketing objectives for the brand”, says a Design House spokeswoman.

The system is now available to clients on disk format, and is intended to introduce clients to “the way in which Design House can help them in their packaging decision-making,” says Design House director David Rosen.

Henrion Ludlow & Schmidt’s product is called CultureScan, and the group claims it provides a “thorough, qualitative analysis of corporate culture”. HLS has registered CultureScan for its sole use.

“Corporate culture is widely recognised as being critical to the quality and delivery of service, to integration within and between companies, and as an external communicator of values and attitudes,” says Chris Ludlow, director at HLS.

Ludlow says CultureScan is applied to “cultural problems of communication and change within a company”, with the four-phase programme used to identify the core problem and encourage the company’s participation in creating and applying the solution.

Both consultancies defy the cynic’s view that each project is different and requires a considered approach rather than a rote programme. “Brand Value Analysis is not just a marketing tool for Design House,” claims Rosen. “It is an evaluation programme in its own right, that can help brand managers to define which elements of pack communication need to be considered.”

Rosen admits that the disk is not a comprehensive evaluating tool and the consultancy sees the client after the disk has been viewed. “It is a marketing tool, but not a marketing ploy,” adds a Design House spokeswoman.

At HLS, Ludlow says Culture-Scan is “one of the processes we sell as a corporate identity specialist. Not every project involves CultureScan, just as not all of our projects involve design. Culture-Scan looks at a corporate culture where appropriate, and various aspects of corporate identity, and that is bigger than design and the input it can have,” he says.

HLS’s approach is similar to that of Design House in providing guidance to the client throughout the exercise. Ludlow answers adverse criticism of the product by saying that the system has been used extensively for a diverse portfolio of more than 50 clients, including BAA, London Underground and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.

“CultureScan is based on experience and extensive research and it is proven as something which works,” claims Ludlow. Both groups admit that their tools are not the solution to measuring the effectiveness of design – nor do they claim they are.

But they do investigate and pin-point certain criteria and the way a company or pack communicates. Such formulaic approaches – however flexible – could ultimately be detrimental, not only to design but to the overall consultancy process. Both groups claim that their particular process works, but it must be acknowledged that every consultancy has a business approach to the job in hand, however it is marketed.

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