With new ideas, re-assess your consultancy’s offer

Earlier this year Ian Cochrane gave seemingly sound advice to consultancies faced with a potential recession (Design Business, DW 16 August), advocating caution when it comes to entering new markets. The fate of the now defunct supergroup Deepend bears that advice out, its rapid global expansion and diversification outside its core offer of digital design having dealt fatal blows.

But, at the time that advice was given, none of us, then teetering on the edge of a possible downturn, had any inkling just how world events would soon dominate, challenging much more than the future of UK design. Now, with many things turned on their head, it is time for bolder moves and the entrepreneurialism that shows the design business at its best.

Pundits across all business areas are advising that this is the time to be pushing new ideas rather than hoping that the old ones will continue to hold firm. Visionaries such as the bosses of RyanAir and other cut-price airlines have already shown leadership, slashing fares in the short term to get people back on their planes. And it is working for them.

Design groups often don’t have as much control over their destinies, except those on the product side, like Colebrooke Bosson Saunders, Stringer and Dimensions, that design and make their own lines. They would be wise now to be forcing new ideas and cashing in their options, having carefully assessed the risks, rather than stick with the status quo.

The same is true for the big branding businesses and product groups such as Ideo that have earned a position of influence in boardrooms across the world. They are in a position to urge the case for creativity as a way of moving a business forward, particularly in adversity. Smaller groups can meanwhile argue that their intermediary role between consumer and client is invaluable, especially when competition is rife. It’s about showing difference, rather than just claiming it.

But showing difference can be tough for design groups, which thrive on acceptance among their peers. There is a place for that – it’s good to be doing the best work winning awards, for example – but in business, ideas and individuality are what win, even if you can’t control the application of your creative work.

One small way to start is with your own identity and culture. How can you urge a client to make a difference, when your own identity features the regulation 6pt typeface or a chic silver logo that disappears when faxed? Make time to become your own client and sort out your own design issues, pushing new ideas on to your own agenda. Your business will be better for it and new opportunities might emerge.

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