Ditch the jargon and say what you mean

Last week Jeremy Myerson warned of the perils facing design if we let the industry “overheat” as consultancies start to see profits rise again – and rise they will if we heed Willott Kingston Smith’s caution about watching costs (see News, page 4). This week I add my own concern that design groups are in danger of confusing clients by using meaningless jargon to dress up the services they offer.

In the Eighties it was corporate identity that attracted the wordsmiths. Terms such as “logo”, “marque” and “visual image” were debated at too great a length by industry heads and pundits quick to overhype their value to commerce. Now as packaging design has grown up apace, pack designers have been keen to pick up clientspeak and it’s fashionable to offer “branding”.

Fine, but even top groups such as Wickens Tutt Southgate admit they came a bit unstuck by moving too far away from their pack design origins. That, after all, is what clients knew them for, whatever their aspirations for their consultancies.

But “branding” isn’t only used to describe packaging strategies. Everybody’s at it, claiming the brand is the core of everything from identity to retailing. That may be so, but isn’t it confusing for clients to have identity folk, retail specialists and packaging groups all harping on about “branding”? It’s about as meaningful as them all saying they offer design, without qualification.

It’s not just clients who are victims of jargon. So too are the people who “sell” design. A consultancy boss confided the other day that finding good account handlers is tough, because so many bright hopefuls toe only the branding line. They fail to grasp that even the best design groups can only carve out a role as “brand guardian” by building trust with a client – and that usually starts with a small, conventional design job.

Fees apart, the ability to deliver a physical solution is what sets design apart from management consultancy. Hang on to that difference and build on it.

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