No one can avoid being affected by what’s gone on in the financial markets recently/ even my seven-year-old daughter knows the ‘credit crunch’ isn’t a breakfast cereal. With hindsight, it’s easy to see how things have gone so wrong, but we have all been caught by a degree of surprise. If you’d have said to me four years ago, as I was working on its new eagle logo, that Barclays bank would end up staring nationalisation in the face, I’d have probably laid an egg myself.
But, as the dust settles, initial concerns about things like our personal savings and pensions now move on to the impact all this will have on our jobs and on our companies. As creative industries account for 8 per cent of UK GDP, we’d be naïve to think we won’t be affected in some way.
Financial services brands have come to be big buyers of design in recent years and many of us, who have banks or insurance companies as clients, will have noticed that projects are taking much longer to happen. A cooling economy inevitably means fewer mergers and acquisitions, which impacts on identity work (hence the flurry of job losses we’ve read about recently). Retail specialists, too, are feeling a big pinch as brands on the high street suffer in the downturn.
But, on a more positive note, many designers I’ve talked to have been busy and are frantically working on projects needed for the end of the year. I think we’ve come to accept areas like branding and packaging can ride a recession fairly well because they are relatively inexpensive compared to an advertising campaign. While clients might cut back, they can’t afford to give up on marketing activity altogether. But there is undoubtedly an air of caution in almost every marketing department. And that can be bad news for design.
However, as clients ‘demand more bang for their buck’ (excuse the dreadful expression), they are being forced to acknowledge this doesn’t come from playing it safe. I hope necessity may force them to be braver and bolder, and we must seize this opportunity to deliver sharper, more insightful solutions. We should avoid the superfluous and the superficial, and be strident in solving real problems.
Post-banking boom and bust, people will still cling to brands as one of the few things you can trust in life. I’m far more likely to trust John Lewis than John Prescott. In an era defined by image and hypocrisy, people want to be able to trust a brand and believe in its raison d’être. People are too savvy now, and see through a veneer: we, as designers, should work with this and find ways to magnify the truths.
In the years since the last recession, manufacturers have squeezed every ounce of profit out of their brands: bottles share the same physical shape, graphics are harmonised, and so on. It has reached a point where the new Ford Ka uses the same platform as the Fiat 500 to share in production costs. Departments have been cut, ‘out-sourcing’ is now even being out-sourced. There is no more fat to trim. You see, creative expression is increasingly the only real way a brand can truly differentiate itself in a saturated and depressed market.
Someone once said that creativity can be summed up as 2+2 = 5 (and clearly it was such creative accounting like that that landed us in the economic mire). My call is for us to embrace a spirit of inventiveness and imagination, as we help our clients come through these turbulent times. After all, that’s what we’re good at.
Garrick Hamm is creative director of Williams Murray Hamm and president of D&AD