Client ideas should be backed up by design

If Tesco manages to hang on to poll position among supermarket chains, it’ll be in spite of its design management strategy. Judging by the array of letterheads published this week (see Diary, page 12), there appears to be little coherence to its identity and no control over the way it is implemented. Let’s hope it makes a better job of its own-brand packs as it vies with arch rival Sainsbury’s to come up with a winning format in the wake of the furore over copycat packaging (DW 1 August).

The sad thing is that while a market leader like Tesco has earned its position through innovation on the marketing and customer services fronts, its creativity doesn’t always extend to its designs. You could say the same of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin empire. Virgin is quick to spot an opportunity and beat the field, whether it’s in colas or airlines, but it doesn’t often match the undoubted strength of its ideas with the quality of its designs.

But Virgin’s new cosmetics chain, Virgin Vie, looks like being a welcome exception, with a clear retail format by Revolution providing a fresh-looking backdrop to Lyons Associates’ striking packs. It would be good to think that it marks the start of design having a higher profile for

Virgin enterprises. We desperately need examples other than Orange, Dyson Appliances and First Direct of genuine innovation followed through in a communications strategy where great design and creative marketing go hand in hand.

The brighter design groups acknowledge this and are aligning themselves with like-minded players in advertising or marketing services. Though not verified at the time of writing, rumours that The Partners is seeking to strike a deal with an ad agency make a lot of sense. Their combined strengths and proven creativity could help their clients to see the bigger picture. This is the reasoning behind other newish alliances that have given us the likes of Marsteller Giant and Horseman Cooke McBains – the latest addition to the Abbott Mead Vickers media stable.

Most clients have a long way to go in this. But design groups of all disciplines, sizes and geographical locations could help themselves enormously by taking off the blinkers and bringing their innate creativity to bear on aspects of their clients’ business other than pure design. It can be done without coming across as arrogant once you have started to build that all-important trust, as astute design groups are finding. These groups are increasingly asked by clients for advice on management issues, which is good for design, great for fees and even better for the outcome of a project.

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