Topic of the season in the national media is the precarious nature of the dot.com boom. Fueled by the less than happy performance of the recently floated lastminute.com on the London Stock Exchange, predictions are that many dot.com start-ups will fail.
But does that mean that design groups should steer clear of dot.com businesses on the grounds that the risk of joining the ranks of creditors is too great? I would agree with many of the design folk quoted in this issue that, while it’s right to be wary of dot.com clients – as it is with any new business sector – they shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
One of the main concerns to design groups is the expectation dot.com clients may have of their commitment. Anything from an entire business strategy to a quick website design might be requested gratis, but with the promise of rewards later if and when the company takes off. Obviously, professional ethics should come into any decision to comply – and the inherent wrong in giving away creative work for free. But with the right deal with a dot.com client that can show it has a good chance of success, a design group might have the chance to show off previously unrecognised entrepreneurial skills. It might even make a healthy profit.
It is a serious risk – and not one to be taken lightly by design consultancies. But then the changes currently sweeping through the whole of business are creating risk in areas previously deemed to be as safe as houses (if, with house price fluctuations said to be in the offing, you can still say that). Who would have believed a couple of years ago that rock solid Unilever brands would be axed or put on the market, that British Airways would see a downturn or that the fortunes of UK retail stalwarts Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s were not secure?
The upside of dot.coms is that they are reinventing the business model and can, therefore, offer a more genuinely creative challenge to design consultants, especially those claiming to base their work on ideas. Being virtual, they might also rely even more on design than traditional businesses to differentiate between themselves and rivals and communicate their existence to potential customers – because there is no corporate muscle to fall back on.
Above all, digital media is here to stay, in whatever guise, and, according to informed commentators, will soon play an active role in everyday life in the UK. To be part of that now can only stand a design group in good stead for the future – as long as it is ultra-careful which company it backs.