A chance for designers to give something back

March the 16th is the day when we all get a bit silly and do odd dares in the name of charity – or so we are led to believe by the host of media stars who’ve been at it for weeks, drumming up support for Comic Relief and its Red Nose Day antics.

Quite apart from the good the momentary madness does for Comic Relief’s real constituents, it adds to the design industry’s workload. Comic Relief itself commissions great design – Radley Yeldar won a Design Week Award for its 1999 Annual Review earlier this month – but client companies join in the fray with fund-raising events and various stunts.

Much of the work is, quite rightly, done for free or for low fees. But it does give design groups a chance to flex their creative muscles, with wit thrown into the brief as a given for once. The charities sector has been quick to appreciate design as an effective way to get a message across. And designers in turn have been quick to respond.

There is the feel-good factor and the fact that most designers are generous souls and like to give a bit back. Long before the recent push, through initiatives such as the Design Business Association’s ongoing Design for Good programme, a number of design groups had two or three pet charities that they worked for on a regular basis. That practice continues.

But there is also the fact that consultancies feel they can have greater control over their creative output when dealing with a charity. Taking a cut in fees gives more freedom with the brief, they believe.

Certainly, the energy they put into charity projects often results in stunning work, and in turn awards success. Small jobs, including charity work, tend to appeal to judges, particularly in print categories, as some readers have pointed out in the aftermath of Design Week’s latest efforts (DW 2 March).

Does it have to be so? Perhaps the fact that more money is riding on it prevents design groups working for corporate clients from challenging the brief and giving it all they’ve got. A creative director of a top global identity consultancy said recently that previously staid corporate clients were asking for a “maverick” approach to identity overhauls. With luck that’s what they’ll get and the uncharacteristic brief will prove more than an act of bravado, resulting in a lack of nerve as the projects develop.

Perhaps, though, the creative dumbing down we associate with big jobs is down to the consultancies. Could it be that even if the designers have passion, it’s lost in translation as client services folk communicate the ideas, or simply sat on from above by consultancy bosses afraid of surprising a high fee-payer?

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