Posting the good news of design effectiveness

Siegel & Gale’s winning design work for Royal Mail was so effective that within 17 days the job had paid for itself.

What is the shortest time it’s taken one of your jobs to pay for itself, justifying the client’s faith in you and investment in design? If you could measure such a thing – and in too many instances it isn’t that easy – you’d be hard pushed to achieve it within 17 days.

But that is what Siegel & Gale has done for Royal Mail with its rethink of its mail redirection service. And this was a major contributing factor in the project, winning top honours in the Design Business Association’s Design Effectiveness Awards this year, as well the Information Design prize.

The fact that, according to Royal Mail, the financial benefits of the new-look form covered the 30 000 design fee was a big plus with the judges. Says Peter Norman, group commercial director of Psion and a judge in the second round of the two-stage competition: “If only 5 per cent of the people responsible for forms took a little notice of this, we’d be better off as a society.”

The project started in February last year, when Royal Mail – co incidentally a sponsor of the Design Effectiveness Awards – asked Siegel & Gale to review its mail redirection service. The consultancy was also briefed to appraise the promotional leaflet, Moving home? and the application form filled in by customers wanting their mail redirected.

Some 800 000 people a year pay to have their mail redirected, and research showed that 87 per cent of application forms contained one or more errors. As a result, Royal Mail was spending a substantial amount of money dealing with these errors and the resulting complaints. Several postal departments channel applications from customers wanting their mail redirected, but because it is such an important public service, it was felt the masterbrand, Royal Mail, was taking a serious knock.

The situation even prompted the Consumers’ Association to damn the Royal Mail redirection service. A highly critical article published in the April 1994 issue of the association’s magazine Which? stated: “The Post Office’s service for people moving house has failed to impress the Consumers’ Association. More than one in ten letters went astray in a test.”

By the time the design project was completed in early May 1994, on schedule and to budget, Siegel & Gale had combined the old leaflet and unwieldy application form into a single, user-friendly document. Folding into an ingenious integrated reply paid “envelope”, the document was tested on customers by independent consultant Peagram Walters Associates before its public launch in June 1994.

The rationale behind the design is to make the form easy to use by Post Office Counters and Royal Mail staff as well as by customers. The decision to amalgamate the two bits of literature was prompted by the discovery that customers thought the leaflet – usually prominently displayed in post offices – was “an operational document”, not just a marketing device. They did not always realise that to apply for the service they had to fill in a separate form, which was generally kept behind the counter.

Apart from recouping its design costs in just over a fortnight, Royal Mail has reaped other benefits from the exercise. It says it reduced operating costs “significantly” in the nine months following the introduction of the new form, and expects a further drop over the next five years.

The success of the project has led to the development of new products, such as a new international redirection service, which is likely to yield 10 per cent extra revenue a year.

As for customer response, the rate of errors in completed applications has fallen from 87 per cent to below 10 per cent nationally – a target established at the outset – and the service has dropped back to third place as a cause for customer complaint.

Most of the staff in the ten Royal Mail Redirection Centres agree that the new form is easier to process. The redesign has also found favour with Post Office Counters and helped to relieve the “historic” internal tensions over the system before Siegel & Gale was brought in.

At the time the review was commissioned, all staff training relating to the redirection service was suspended. According to Royal Mail, the simplicity of the new-look form has made it more easily understood by staff and customers alike and there has been no need to resume training.

All involved in the project have been able to measure its effectiveness accurately because Royal Mail placed a moratorium on advertising and promotions for the service from the start of the exercise. Even posters and point-of-sale material detailing the service were removed, allowing the redesign to stand up on its own. Which, as its success at this week’s award celebration showed, it has done admirably.

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