Design and strategy must collaborate

It’s not surprising that Miller Freeman is axing its fox identity before it is fully launched (see News, page 5). Apart from being unpopular with staff – who were apparently not involved in the rebranding exercise by Enterprise IG – it says little about the media group’s publishing and exhibition interests.

The “ingenuity” it is deemed to portray could be claimed by many a business, regardless of sector, forging only a tenuous link with “the big idea” that underpins the best identities. The execution, meanwhile, is far from elegant.

Identity buffs will argue that Miller Freeman has been a bit hasty. The visual imagery is but the outward sign of a far deeper process to identify and enhance a company’s USP and aspirations, they’ll say. There’s always trouble when there’s change – note the former Newell and Sorrell’s British Airways identity, the BT piper by Wolff Olins and Martin Lambie-Nairn’s work for the BBC, all of which met with bad press. But things settle down eventually.

We’ve heard these justifications many times before, but they’re not good enough. If design is to ram home its point of difference to the business community as it jockeys for position against advertising and management consultancy, there must be creativity in every aspect of the process.

Enterprise IG and other identity giants wield influence in boardrooms across the globe because of the quality of their thinking and their ability to help clients handle change. But if the visual manifestation of those cultural shifts miss the mark, design’s reputation won’t grow. If the design isn’t the best it possibly could be, based on a great proposition, they are selling the client short.

The same is true of smaller groups that excel at design, but have jumped on the bandwagon, claiming to be expert at strategic thinking. Very few are, though they have a good deal to offer in terms of visual talent and knowledge of a market sector. How much better if, instead of over-extending themselves, they collaborated on projects with more strategic agencies.

We hear increasingly of creative groups trying to step outside the frame and offer clients a different service. The Fourth Room, whose first FutureScape report is due out next week (see First Sight, page 9), is such an agency. Though it boasts design doyen Michael Wolff as a director, it isn’t in the business of churning out design, rather ideas that will help shape the future. Yet others less gifted in either visual skills or strategic abilities claim to be capable of both. Might they be more effective sticking to what they’re best at?

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