Dress for success

After an experiment in naked working at a Newcastle design consultancy, Jim Davies argues it’s dressing a brand, not undressing it, that makes good design tick

Hats off – and everything else for that matter – to One Best Way, the Newcastle consultancy that recently made a clean breast of it in the tabloids. In case you missed the story, the ailing company called in a ‘self-styled business psychologist’ to help them weather choppy recessionary waters. He took one look at them and decided the best way forward was to get them all to work naked for a day, giving a whole new meaning to ‘dress down Friday’. This, the resourceful chap exclaimed, ‘is the ultimate expression of trust in yourself and each other’.

The accompanying picture showed five staff members (ahem) – some clearly more enamoured by the idea than others – with strategically placed laptops, chairs and fruit bowls hiding their modesty. Creative director Mike Owen, 40, summed up the experiment thus/ ‘As a creative company, we persuade our clients to be brave and this was about taking on some of the bravery ourselves.’ He claims the corporate culture has become decidedly more open and honest since, and business is on the up and up.

Personally speaking, I’m totally comfortable going ‘commando’ in the studio. But then my sole workmate is my fragrant wife of 16 years standing, so there’d be few surprises for either party.

However, the thought of some of the design studios I collaborate with wearing only their skin to work is intriguing. You wonder whether the old pecking order would prevail or new hierarchies would emerge, with the post boy having a bigger part than the managing director. There are practical considerations too – for male colleagues, flirting would be fraught with danger, and I’d also advise going gingerly with the office stapler.

More seriously though, I don’t think buck nakedness sits particularly easily with our industry. Quite the opposite. We’re in the business of creating mystique and playing to the strengths of whatever it is we happen to be promoting.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be honest, but best feet are there to be put forward. Warts and all don’t tend to shift more units because, let’s face it, generally people don’t care for wartiness.

Unsurprisingly, recent financial and expenses furores have made the public cynical and suspicious – so everyone wants transparency and openness. They’ve also become more educated about what they consume, aware of the effects not only on themselves and their families, but the conditions in which goods are produced and what damage they’re doing to the planet. What this doesn’t mean, however, is a full-frontal move towards ‘naked truth’ marketing.

I’ll forgive you if it passed you by, but in the 1990s, there was a distinctly average Dudley Moore movie called Crazy People, in which he plays a jaded adman who hits upon the novel idea of telling the brutal truth in all his work. Lovable Dud gets carted off to an institution, but in the meantime his creative genius takes the world by storm.

This is hardly the way forward. Because what the design industry is skilled at is dressing, not undressing. Taking a brand, finding its best angle, getting the wardrobe and lighting just so. Let’s face it – deep down, we all know it’s more interesting to imagine what’s underneath someone’s clothes than making small talk as they let it all hang out by the water cooler.

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