How to make clients proud of using design

Why does design fall into two extremes when it comes to receiving the credit for it? In fashion and furniture, the known label or “name” piece commands a higher price than an anonymous alternative, whether or not it is better made. Yet product and packaging designers can rarely talk about their involvement in a job until after the result has gone on shelf, and increasingly cannot show work in their portfolio.

Clients such as Mars appear paranoid about design groups gaining kudos from their work. It is only on pain of death if we dare disclose it that designers will show Design Week staff old work done for such clients – even when it is long after its sell-by-date for a news weekly.

Last month, Carter Wong & Partners missed out on promoting its Wall’s ice cream branding. Wall’s parent Unilever only let the London group broadcast its involvement after a mega implementation programme was well underway in the UK. By then it was old news – even though it is a global project, covering Wall’s worldwide sister brands, and had been trialled in Vietnam before hitting the UK. We have even heard of a couple of recent projects – a website and a fast-food chain – where the client claims the design was done in-house, but we know, albeit off the record, this is not strictly the case. It will be interesting to see the credits if these jobs make the running for a creative award.

Commercial concerns are understandable, with so much money and reputation riding on brands. But, as branding projects become more sophisticated, shouldn’t designers be pushing for greater recognition for the role they play in creating not just “objects”, but management programmes? If a highly competitive sector such as furniture is happy to show off credited prototypes at trade fairs to test the market – Neil Poulton’s chair range for Allermuir made its debut in Milan this way (see Client Study, page 12) – why shouldn’t a retail or fmcg client release some details ahead of implementation? It’s great that enlightened clients and consultancies are working more closely. But why aren’t more clients sufficiently proud of their consultants to promote that relationship publicly?

We can’t just blame clients. The design business must push the merits of good design. It would be good to see the likes of the Design Council, through its Business Links connections, and British Design and Art Direction, through its education programme, doing a bit more. An exchange programme for staff and students on marketing courses would be a great start. It could promote mutual respect, leading to better use of design and more creative work.

Latest articles