It is common in design to blame the client when things don’t go the way the studio hoped. It was its lack of vision and inability to take risks, we are frequently told, that meant the outcome was competent, but less than award-winning.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though, as groups that push the boundaries have shown. The responsibility lies as much with the creative team as with the client to get the best possible result all round, with the customer at the heart of the equation. Certainly, with furniture and lighting design in Italy, designer and manufacturer generally start with the concept of beauty as a given, with both parties buying into the idea from the outset.
We expect something special from the creative brat pack featured regularly towards the top of the creativity charts, whatever client is its line of business. If The Partners can win awards year after year for humble toilet cubicle manufacturer Thrislington Cubicles and Lewis Moberly could make its name all those years ago through wine labels for supermarket chain Asda, then surely anything can be achieved. It’s a question of talent and attitude.
It helps, though, to have the client onside, and we can all name those that have an edge, and which choose design groups that succeed creatively as well as deliver the goods on time and to budget. The Design Week Hall of Fame and Benchmarks Client of the Year Award aim to honour companies like Thrislington, property developer Land Securities and the Royal Mail, whose belief in design is systemic and whose design management is exemplary.
Honouring clients is implicit in the Design Business Association’s Design Effectiveness Awards (see page 35). Though the effectiveness awards are more about commercial performance than creative quality and superb execution, they do demand major input from the client. Indeed, the trophy designed by Seymour Powell for the DBA some years ago divides into two halves – one for the client and one for the consultancy – reflecting the importance of partnership, not just in entering the award, but in achieving commercial success.
A good many designer/client partnerships are honoured in our charts, though the client doesn’t get to take a bow. But in a growing number of instances, it is the client – or rather its in-house design team – that gets, and deserves, the credit.
Apple Design Group arguably paved the way for in-house teams to be seen to be as creative as their consultancy counterparts. Indeed, such is the brilliance of the Apple products, created by Jonathan Ive and his team in their Cupertino studio in California, that the company tops both of our main charts this year. The iPhone has a lot to do with this positioning, but Ive and his team have long been serious contenders at the top of the charts through the excellence of their designs and their prolific output.
But, while it may have opened the door to other ‘client’ teams in its hunger to be recognised through creative awards, Apple isn’t the only company up there. Virgin Atlantic, Guardian • Media Group, Channel Four, John Brown Publishing, Sony, Emap Design and Welsh TV channel S4C all make a showing in one chart or another.
For some of these, awards success comes through collaboration between the in-house design team and external consultancies – once said by Ideo founder Bill Moggridge to be the very best way to get great results, particularly in 3D design.
Very much in this category is Virgin Atlantic, whose in-house team led by head of design Joe Ferry has a track record for awards success. Collaborations – with Pearson Lloyd on its first-class seats, with architect Softroom on its first-class lounges and, more recently, with Universal Design Studio on its Base training facility – have brought Ferry’s team to prominence over time.
In TV, collaboration has also been important for Channel Four. Its in-house designers, within 4creative, and Rudd Design achieved D&AD Gold – a Black Pencil these days – for the Pylons, Diner and Cornfield idents, earning both teams a place in the cumulative charts.
For others, like Apple and contract publisher John Brown Publishing, it is more likely purely in-house work that makes the grade. John Brown scored hugely for the now-discontinued, illustration-led Carlos inflight magazine for Virgin Atlantic first-class passengers a few years ago, and continued its success in 2007 with its Pick Me Up book, notable chiefly for its lenticular cover and lively visual content, for fellow publisher Dorling Kindersley.
In some respects, you might see John Brown as a consultancy, with creative director Jeremy Leslie at the helm, but publishing is its main business and editorial design is part of that package.
For the other publishers on the client list, though, we might expect a chart appearance to be short-lived. Guardian Media Group’s creative editor Mark Porter cleaned up on awards for the newspaper’s redesign in the smaller Berliner format three years ago and the creation of the Guardian Egyptian typeface by Paul Barnes and Christian Schwartz. Meanwhile, Suzanne Sykes did well at Emap Media for the design of Grazia, of which she was then art director.
Past contenders for client honours might have included the Royal Mail, earth-moving specialist JCB and Boots, before it hived off its in-house design team to Jupiter Design in Nottingham. It would be great to see more examples of an in-house team proud enough of its work to enter awards or to want its collaborations noticed. Success breeds success, as they say, and awards prominence can only improve quality overall.