Designers should put the consumer firs

Well done, Chris Lightfoot. Maybe now more designers will follow the Interbrand creative director’s lead and shun copycat packaging (see News, page 6). It must, after all, be one of the least satisfying, least lucrative kinds of branding work around. If the recent case between supermarket giant Asda and drinks firm IDV is anything to go by, you can get away with quite a lot under the law before you’ve produced what is technically considered to be a lookalike pack. But where’s the creativity in that?

What is more important about Lightfoot’s words, though, is that he is taking a moral stance with regard to the designer’s role. He talks of theft, but it’s not only brand-owners who suffer when a retailer introduces lookalike packs. Only the other day, I heard from a busy working mother about her fury at finding she’d inadvertently picked up what she considered to be an inferior supermarket substitute for Kelloggs Fruit’n’Fibre. That experience is not limited to cereal packs, and does nothing for design’s reputation with the public.

It may be legal (to an extent), but is it ethical for designers to help clients to hoodwink consumers in this way? Good design is surely about clarifying an offer and building on the positive differences between products, not creating confusion to customers by passing products off as something else.

The issue of copycat packaging highlights an even greater problem that designers need to address. It’s the question of who design work is really for – the client paying the fees or the end-user.

Product designers have generally got it right, in that meeting the consumer’s needs are paramount to them. Take Design Acumen’s first class seat for British Airways. Fewer of the new seats fit in an aircraft cabin, but enhancing customer experience drove that project and it is proving highly successful. Or look at the care former Seymour Powellite Nick Griffin has taken to make his Bones eyewear better for the wearer before considering a manufacturing deal (First Sight, page 9).

But if consumers don’t like a product, it doesn’t sell, however much the client loves it, and this is not necessarily the case in other design areas. Retailers may see a value in researching consumer attitudes, but office workers, for example, rarely have a say in their environment.

The concerns of the end-user aren’t considered often enough, which is why Lightfoot’s stand against copycatting is so welcome. Let’s heed his words and start to put the needs of the customer ahead of just serving the client. It even makes commercial sense in the long run.

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