Build partnerships to unleash creative potential

Collaboration has been one of the big themes in design over the past few months, with designers of various disciplines coming together on projects. The upshot is that specialists get a better grasp of the skills of their complementary peers and the client gets a better job.

It isn’t a new thing. Multidisciplinary teams have long existed in bigger groups like Fitch London and Imagination – anywhere, in fact, where the work has the complexity of, say, retail design or shows and events.

The newer development is that more smaller independent consultancies have come together voluntarily to pitch for work that separately they might not have a chance of getting, rather than at the client’s behest. It can be a way of fighting back against megagroups within stables such as WPP, Interpublic Group and Omnicom that claim to offer cross-disciplinary services to their clients.

One of the greatest joys of this is that designers start to realise that it is often only the medium that separates what they do from the output of creatives in other disciplines. The process is invariably the same. This in turn fuels the notion that a designer is a designer, regardless of background, and that overspecialisation is a product of the education system rather than a requirement for the job.

However, the old adage that the best work comes out of a strong collaboration between designer and client still rings true. It is encouraging therefore to see a number of initiatives across the country bent on fostering that relationship.

One such organisation is Different by Design, the Staffordshire-based venture that aims to put manufacturers and inventors in touch with product designers to help them realise their ideas. As with the Glasgow Collection of 1999 – masterminded by Bruce Wood, one of the three instigators of the Staffordshire initiative – one of the partners in each client/designer relationship has to be local.

An exhibition of the first products to reach prototype stage – with help from Different by Design – opened in Stoke last week and one of the heartening things about the event was how much mutual understanding and respect the exercise had generated.

You are more likely to build an open relationship when a third party has made the introductions – and Different by Design is one of a few organisations in design doing this. That way the client doesn’t necessarily start out with the upper hand and there is more likelihood of a fusion of ideas and experience.

This boosts designers’ confidence in their value to clients in getting ideas to market – a welcome reaction in a world where designers often sell themselves short.

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