The quiet revolution

Corporate design is no longer the poor relation of the creative world. People are starting to explore its possibilities like never before, says Simon Lake

Corporate design does not have the best of reputations. As designers from every part of the industry spectrum continue to push the boundaries of creativity, corporate design has been regarded by most observers as lagging behind and remaining creatively limiting.

But the design sector should beware of such misconceptions: there is a quiet revolution simmering away in the world of corporate design.

The collapse of the global economy has forced businesses to reassess the importance and value of their corporate communications.

They are being faced with having to rebuild trust among all their audiences and, in doing so, are having to present a warmer and more human facade to their existing cold, hard corporate image.

Consequently, the lines between corporate and consumer design are beginning to blur, and businesses are starting to break with convention and discover the power of engaging design.

There are a number of changes that have taken place to facilitate this seismic shift, from the stale to the cutting-edge – let’s start with the Internet.

Whereas once companies had a relatively restricted audience for their corporate communications, via an annual report and possibly a corporate brochure, now they are exposed to the world at large through their corporate website.

And when you add the latest developments in social media to the mix, you have companies that can no longer just broadcast what they see as the most important messages. You now have companies that need to respond to the public conversations that both proponents and critics are conducting about them.
In this digital environment, the standards of communication have had to improve. This is in no small part because, whereas once the corporate office was known only to shareholders, now consumers are connecting up the brands that they see on the high street with the parent organisations that own them.

Then, there is the need to add into the mix the development of corporate responsibility strategies and the public’s growing cynicism about Green claims. The communications challenge has quickly evolved from ‘me too’, to ‘why this business is different and better in its application of corporate responsibility strategies’. Adopting a corporate responsibility programme is now seen as a competitive advantage.

But what does all of this mean for design in the corporate world?

It means that corporate design is heavily scrutinised and has to address the demands of several different audiences.

Its role is now to tell an often complex story in a simple way, to respond to the needs of its users before the requirements of the organisation, to provide evidence for the claims being made, and to evocatively express the essence of the company brand.

And businesses are finally starting to warm to this scenario and recognise the power of engaging design in telling their stories.

After all, there is a huge amount of competition in the corporate world – if a company’s proposition is not clearly presented to potential investors, they will go elsewhere.

Design needs to establish a balance between a brand that excites and grabs the attention of an investor, and explaining and communicating simply and effectively why they should invest.

Look at companies such as Marks & Spencer and O. Both have successfully captured that balance between brand and content, and are now seen as key brands within the public eye, with good corporate messages.

Because their brands are so visually exciting, they have that instant ability to grab the attention of readers and viewers. Once ‘in’, they give people the information they need, quickly and informatively.

The world of corporate design is by no means standing still. Businesses continue to recognise that we are living in a world that has changed forever, and that to keep up with the competition, they need to change, too.

Making Corporate Design Happen:

  • Don’t stand still – this is a creative business and the world changes very quickly. It is important that the design world always continues to invent new ways of reporting company information
  • Companies do need designers, and we need them as a channel to showcase our thinking
  • Find the balance between brand and content
  • Invite a response
  • Present content in a clear, concise and easily navigated way, adopting online standards

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