Some points to ponder in the Christmas break

What a year it’s been. Signs of optimism emerged in the early part, with talks beginning between design bodies, thanks to the then Design Business Association chairman Jonathan Sands, about creating a single voice for the industry. Meanwhile, in the bigger political arena, the May General Election brought a welcome change in Government. A positive shift in the mood of the country ensued and a push to capture that new energy in a new image for Britain. The euphoria felt then across the nation was to be echoed in the grief we felt at the death four months later of the people’s icon, Diana, Princess of Wales.

Meanwhile, we in design sensed that things were picking up, and our instincts were right. Work started to come in at a steadier flow than we’ve seen for years and has become a torrent for many consultancies as I write this. As the year ends, design groups are looking to themselves again, restructuring, realigning and expanding in an intelligent way, to meet new challenges they hadn’t even dreamed of a year or so ago.

Three main themes emerge from this year of change. They’re unlikely to vanish as we ring out 1997, so let’s use the break to weigh up the issues.

First is the much hyped concept of Britain the brand. Several stabs have been made at this one, from BBC2’s Money Programme in May to the Demos report Britain. Then there were the contentious British Airways and British Tourist Authority identities. Top designers say we need to rethink our image but hang on to the Union flag (DW 28 November). What do you reckon?

Second, acquisitions and mergers have hit the media as big business goes global. Guinness and Grand Metropolitan’s move to form Diageo was one of the smoothest; the deal between telecom giants BT and MCI to form Concert fell through. Wolff Olins had a hand in both.

But it’s not just clients making the moves. US predators Diefenbach Elkins and Interbrand and South African group KSDP Pentagraph are, among others, on the prowl. Witness the Interbrand UK/Newell and Sorrell deal, which promises to be one of the most interesting marriages. With smaller UK players keen to buy into design too, should you be thinking of selling or buying?

Finally, there’s the issue of creativity. More work hasn’t meant better quality work for most groups. We bang on about good design being no costlier than bad design, so what are we going to do to raise our own standards?

As you think on these, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a challenging and prosperous New Year.

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