Advertising and design share that intangible process of bringing artistry to business. But you don’t need to attend the annual British Design and Art Direction Awards dinner, and listen to the impatient catcalls and sneers of derision from the ad agency tables as the design winners troop up meekly to receive their pencils, to recognise that advertising and design can sometimes make uneasy bedfellows.
Ad agency folk often regard the design of packaging, brochures and logotypes as small beer compared with the glamour of big-budget, high-profile press and TV work. Designers, for their part, tend to regard much of advertising as inelegant hard-sell at the dirty end of business, no matter how commercially effective.
Between the two camps there is often a gulf in outlook, method and educational background, even though designers, agency art directors and copywriters are all supposedly in the same communication business and feeding from the same sources of visual culture. Successive D&AD presidents have sought to bridge the gap – most notably John Hegarty, an agency creative director with a strong design sensibility, and Martin Lambie-Nairn, a graphic designer whose foray into computer animation and film has embraced Smarties commercials.
Current D&AD president Mike Dempsey, of CDT Design, is the latest to seek answers to the problem – but the overriding impression remains of two very separate creative communities divided by a common purpose. It wasn’t always like that. Past D&AD president Marcello Minale worked for two years in advertising at Young & Rubicam alongside Brian Tattersfield before co-founding the Minale Tattersfield design group in 1963. Indeed, as Minale explains, ad agencies were the “first port of call for graphic designers” before the Sixties and early Seventies saw waves of design consultancies float off to form their own industry.
Today the picture is shifting again. New technology is giving graphic designers the ability to produce and edit moving image and sound, dimensions that were once the exclusive right of agency creatives. So is the time ripe for design and advertising to move closer together?
Mike Dempsey is mindful of the tensions that exist between the two camps and cautious of any technology-push trends to bring them closer. What is likely to emerge, he suggests, is a new set of people outside conventional agency and design group structures, equipped with hybrid communication skills. “Tomato is a good example of what we’re talking about,” he says.
Ironically, the lessons of the past may point the way ahead. Some of the strongest under lying connections between design and advertising were made last autumn through the passing of two of the greats of graphic design: Paul Rand and Abram Games. Obituaries for the two explained how, in the golden age of commercial art, graphic artists were the admen of their day. Rand, in particular, learnt his trade, in the words of critic Steven Heller, “in the commercial art bullpens of New York”.
When William Weintraub started an ad agency in 1941, Rand joined as art director and, over the next ten years, modernised the advertising design process by weaving headline, image and visual composition into an intelligent whole. During the same period, on the other side of the Channel in very different circumstances, Abram Games did wonders with the medium of poster design, and reflected that today’s expensive TV commercials, with their closing packshots, had moved on little from the powerful posters of the Forties.
The best work of both men shares that ability to think about the communication problem and distill it to its simplest form. Rand laid the creative foundations for the memorable series of Volkswagen ads, by Bill Bernbach of Doyle Dane Bernbach in the early Sixties, which inspired British graphic designers such as Brian Tattersfield. In looking at what design can learn from advertising, Bernbach’s most famous sayings provide a useful platform.
‘It is one thing to have a selling proposition and quite another to sell it.’ – Bill Bernbach
When asked what they can learn from other disciplines, designers attribute lateral thinking to art, social responsibility to architecture, skill to craft, material invention to engineering – and communication, entrepreneurship and the meeting of business objectives to advertising.
“Design with a capital D – cars, lighting, industrial design – can learn little or nothing from advertising,” says Minale. “But when you’re talking about design in relation to marketing, the focus of advertising on getting that 3 per cent increase in sales has a lot to teach us in fast-moving consumer goods.” Not for nothing did the Design Business Association emulate the format of the Advertising Effectiveness Awards for its own scheme.
‘Technique for its own sake can be disastrous because, after a while, you’re so anxious to do things differently, and do them better and funnier and more brilliantly than the next guy, that that becomes the goal of the ad, instead of selling the merchandise.’ – Bill Bernbach
One difference between design and advertising is in technique and execution. For ad agencies, the idea is the thing and execution follows afterwards. For designers, the lovingly crafted execution of an idea is often more important than what is being communicated – and this can result in beautiful but vacuous design work.
The absence of copywriter-art director partnerships in design groups also skews the balance away from content and meaning towards the purely visual and decorative. “I always say that, in advertising, you think first and then do it,” says Minale, “but in design, you do it first and think about it afterwards. Sad to say that, with the new technologies now available, too many designers are not thinking about what they are doing at all.” Dempsey puts it another way: “It is fine for graphic designers to add to their armoury, but the more we can do, the more care we need to take!”
‘We’re so busy measuring public opinion that we forget that we can mould it. We are so busy listening to statistics that we forget we can create them.’ –
There is one area in which design leads. Advertising will always look to design for new visual directions, says Dempsey, whose own research has revealed that the style of winning D&AD bookjackets one year will be recreated in winning D&AD press ads the next. But, conversely, design has been rather less successful than advertising at putting across its case for business investment within the marketing mix.
Perhaps by focusing on a common enemy – market research that constricts creativity and leads to only safe solutions – design and advertising can forget their differences and concentrate on producing the undeniably brilliant work that, in Bernbach’s terms, creates statistics, not simply responds to them.
Barry Brand, head of advertising design, WCRS
Despite training as a designer, Barry Brand was lured into advertising soon after starting his career and says he prefers the excitement and pace of it. Since jumping the fence he feels he has “more scope” creatively, bigger budgets to work with and more visible results.
From his first advertising job at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, he has risen via a number of other agencies to become head of advertising design at WCRS, a title he has styled for himself.
Brand admits there is a divide between the advertising and design cultures, but he wasn’t initially aware of it. When he left the London College of Printing, where he studied design for print, it was natural he should join a design consultancy, and he would have carried on in design if he hadn’t heard about a job at BBH. At the time he was a design assistant at Paul Russell Design, and went along to the agency to find out more about the vacancy for an assistant typographer.
“I’ll never forget walking into the BBH reception. It had a real buzz, a great feeling to it and it made quite an impression on me. I felt I had to work there.”
He got the job, and didn’t resent the drop in pay. Initially, he felt design and advertising were quite similar. “I didn’t know who BBH was until I worked there. You can be quite oblivious about the other side.” But it soon became apparent that the two are “vastly different”, recalls Brand. “Advertising is hard and fast, design is quite peaceful,” he says.
Brand gets involved on most accounts, ranging from BMW to Orange, to ensure the “look is right”. “There’s something nice about doing a 48-sheet poster one week and seeing it up the next. Also, the thing that’s given me more scope in my work is the budgets that are available.” Brand’s role was as head of typography when he first joined WCRS two years ago. He says he’s “re-invented” the position to cover all graphics, including elements of TV commercials. He adopted the title head of advertising design, and now he claims it’s catching on in other agencies.
Despite his design training he resents the impression given off by some in the industry that advertising mimics design. He’s made his move and he won’t be returning to the design flock. “I’d never go back to design. I can’t see me enjoying what I do in the same way – there would be a lot of things missing.” And Brand doubts he could match his present salary by moving back to a consultancy, even though he took a pay cut for his first job in advertising.
“Clients have a different attitude to advertising. What goes into a campaign is the thinking, the planners, the creative team and the media team. We’re more involved and have more of a feel for it.”
He predicts smaller agencies may follow WCRS by introducing heads of design, and he says he sees a lot more young designers than he used to. Perhaps the boundaries are merging. “Designers are coming out of college and thinking about advertising,” he says.
Carl Sherriff, creative director of the newly formed DMB&B Design
Carl Sherriff agrees his Australian background has helped in bridging the design-advertising gulf. He trained in magazine and newspaper design and worked for both design and advertising groups before arriving in the UK in 1979. He found the boundaries between the two were far more flexible back home than in London. “There is more one-stop shopping in Australia, probably because it’s a smaller market,” he says.
Although his first job in the UK was with design consultancy Murdoch Design Associates, it wasn’t long before Sherriff had made the move into an agency by joining Landsdown, the design arm of JWT. Soon he was bitten by the advertising bug, which he sums up as “culture, environment and structure”.
Design groups, he says, are not on a par with agencies in terms of structure and dedication to brands. “Design came out of advertising, and advertising is more sophisticated in terms of its structure,” he says.
Sherriff left Landsdown to set up his own consultancy, working with both agencies and design groups, and sold the business after seven years to advertising-led DMB&B Communications Group. “I introduced a design culture into DMB&B,” says Sherriff, who has just moved across from DMB&B Financial to help set up DMB&B Design.
Aside from the “excitement and creative energy you find within agencies”, he’s also attracted by their account management structures, planning and research-led approach to brands. All of which, he feels, provide a perfect support to the new consultancy, which has already signed up clients such as Mars, Fiat and Hutchinson Telecom.
“Some design groups are very limited in their offer and in some cases are precious or uptight. The standard of account management and planning resources at DMB&B is phenomenal. Also, designers are given the opportunity to translate their work across a variety of media.”
Although he agrees some design groups are learning from the advertising structure, Sherriff prefers the back-up of a group like DMB&B. As an example of brand dedication, he says the account management “lived and breathed dogginess” for a Pedigree packaging project. “People here live and breathe brands, and designers had to own a dog to work on the project. Luckily I do.”
Sherriff is convinced this mix of design, advertising and other marketing services within the group will work, despite some of the unhappy marriages of the Eighties. “This is very different. This is true integration and it’s a launch pad for a truly global design network. Design groups need to go global, clients want to go global, and DBM&B has an incredible global network.”
The new consultancy is “filling a gap”, believes Sherriff, who predicts other agencies will follow the same route. “Design is such an important ingredient it shouldn’t be dissipated.”
Mark HURST, junior creative director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty
“Design is more tangible, advertising is more transient,” declares Mark Hurst, a promising junior creative at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, he trained and worked in design before joining the agency.
Although he’s reluctant to rock the boat (many of his friends are designers), he gives the impression that he respects the agency set-up more than the consultancy. “It’s the support you get,” says Hurst. “There are so many more talented people to work with. There are about 400 people at BBH, and they’re very heavy on strategy, organisation and backing up the idea.”
In any case, he says he’s always been more interested in ideas, which he believes advertising is all about. Early on in his design career “I realised I’d always done adverts, direct mail or posters. That’s what I enjoyed doing most”.
It was while Hurst was studying graphic design at the University of Central Lancashire that he met Ben Casey of The Chase. Despite graduating with a first, jobs were not easy to come by in 1992. Hurst and two friends set up their own consultancy, C3, operating out of The Chase’s Manchester offices. When the other two moved on, Hurst worked for Casey, but soon lusted after a life in London.
Initially he thought he would join a London consultancy, but was prompted to head straight for the glitzy world of advertising after seeing John Rushworth at Pentagram and Nancy Williams at Williams & Phoa.
“I was lucky,” he admits, after landing a job at BBH. “I came to see John Hegarty. He was really keen, but it’s not that easy to get a position as a creative director. As it happened he wanted to get into new media, and put me in touch with my partner David Bryant.” In the year since he joined, the pair have created Internet ads for Levi’s, 48-sheet posters for the Mail on Sunday and had a go at writing TV commercials.
“It’s easy for advertising people to criticise designers and vice versa and there’s no need. They are very distinct and separate industries and they should learn to respect each other,” says Hurst. “What’s wrong with design is it’s a group of creatives but there’s no support. One of the reasons there’s a poorer cousin feeling about design is everyone has to do everything.”
He does, however, see multimedia as an area in which both disciplines can cross over. He also sees more opportunities for designers to become creative directors.
Like Brand, he took a pay cut to move into advertising but acknowledges earning potential is far higher in advertising. But that’s not what attracted him. “When you start to worry about money you start to lose it really.”