Do unto others as you would be done by…

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how design groups can play a bigger role with clients; helping to create a strategy for a brand or service, rather than just a design. It’s about how they can become regarded as consultants rather than as suppliers, and earn the respect and influence that true consultancy entails.

At the root is the belief that creativity is as much about thinking as about the ability to visualise a concept, and that the best results come from teamwork. Designers working alongside marketers, ad folk and even philosophers, if the job demands, can really motor on a project, particularly if, as is increasingly the case, they’re in the driving seat. It’s stimulating and fun, and the more interesting clients are coming to expect such a holistic approach.

Some designers have cracked it and are valued as consultants. Their reach invariably extends beyond the visual outcome of a project to the client’s internal design management structures. Pentagram partners Daniel Weil and Michael Beirut, for example, appear to be offering a service close to management consultancy for United Airlines, one of the world’s biggest carriers. Hired as image consultants, rather than purely designers, Weil and Beirut are working from London and New York respectively on elements of customer experience ranging from upholstery to crockery. But they are also helping a massive management team to address the bigger issues of customer service and advising on how best to commission and evaluate design.

The Pentagram experience is on a global scale, but it’s not a new scenario. Increasingly clients setting up design rosters, for example, are looking to designers for design management input at the outset of the process. The role played by Nucleus in putting together Superdrug’s award-winning design line-up has been well reported; now

M & K chairman Paul King is going through a similar exercise with B & Q, poised to announce its roster.

It’s a healthy development for the design industry and one that will take the industry forward. How sad, therefore, that design groups don’t always treat their “suppliers” in a similar way. Printers, shopfitters and other technical suppliers can make or break a job, but they’re often brought in at the last minute, only listened to in a crisis, and kept hanging on for payment. Tony Brown’s view about how designers could build better relationships with printers (see Sector Report, page 12) could as easily be put by designers about clients. Yet we know the most successful projects use proper teamwork, involving all concerned throughout the job. Get working at it.

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