Designers need expertise to gain edge over competition

Every so often design groups latch on to an idea that they believe gives them the edge over their rivals. We’ve seen phrases like ‘brand strategy’, ‘strategic consultants’ and the like bolted on to many a consultancy name over the years, according to current fashion.

Invariably it has little meaning. It is just a bid to impress clients by throwing in a bit of marketing speak. Fortunately, clients aren’t fooled by words and will still opt for creative quality, personality and track record when choosing a design group. But with the growing complexity of projects, particularly in the global arena, design groups need to gain new expertise to give themselves, and their clients, the edge over the competition.

To meet the opportunities potentially thrown up by the Cox Review, design needs to adopt a leadership stance best achieved through knowledge, experience and the inquisitiveness that led most good creatives into the industry in the first place.

Some groups already do this. Well known examples on the product side include Seymour Powell and Priestman Goode, but in branding – perhaps the most influential field – it is rare to find depth of knowledge beyond the project in hand.

Exceptions include London consultancy Dragon, whose commitment to sustainability is permeating the French-owned group of which it is a part, and packaging groups such as Jones Knowles Ritchie and Design Bridge that offer structural design alongside graphics branding.

But one common area that has yet to be tapped effectively is research. Dismissed over the years as the one thing that kills great work, if consistent and carried out for the right reasons, it is a real asset, giving depth to a consultancy’s offer.

True understanding of materials, processes or a culture take a lot of beating. Couple this knowledge with greater respect for suppliers and other collaborators, and acknowledgement of their input, and design might achieve the maturity it needs.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor

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