A question of size

Controversy wisdom says big clients are unwieldy monoliths when making decisions about packaging, and smaller companies are more willing to start with a blank canvas. David Benady suggests that the picture isn’t that simple

The big brand client

Who: Richard Seymour

Title: Consultant design director at Unilever, and founding partner of consultancy Seymour Powell

Brands: Dove, Vaseline


A large organisation tends to be highly stratified with people working on lots of levels. You have to carry everyone along with the vision of a design. For a smaller brand there are usually fewer people to persuade, but that isn’t always the case. For instance, Apple is a huge organisation, but design decisions are made by a small number of extremely smart and savvy people at the top of the company. Apple behaves more like a small company – it appears to be much more autocratic, and covers ground very quickly. That would be difficult for an organisation with a more consensual management structure where everybody has to be on board to make progress. But autocracy for the sake of it won’t save you. One person taking all the decisions will get clarity, but not necessarily the right results. You need to make the people match the process and the process match the people.

It is often about finding a way to make a big brand feel like a small brand, which the likes of Innocent Drinks, personal care brand Burt’s Bees and Pret A Manger have all managed. They started off small and have grown big without losing their essential qualities.

For brands like Coca-Cola and Dove, which are huge and have been around for a long time, the important thing is to recognise that they strike roots in the culture and you have to be conscious of their history and provenance. You often hear people say a design consultancy knows more about the brand than the client. But that is incredibly dangerous. Knowledge about the brand must rest with the client. The big brand consultancy

The big brand consultancy

Who: Brendan Martin

Title: Communications director, Identica

Brands: Captain Morgan, Ocean Spray

We work for both small and big brands. On the large side, we worked on redesigning Captain Morgan’s rum across the world. There are international research and brand managers in different countries; it is a bigger, slower process than with small brands, though it is no less detailed.

Major clients like Diageo tend to be more skilled at writing a brief whereas you might have to help a smaller client and educate them through the process.

For global rebranding, the brand-owner will have a crack team that has done it before. On the creative side, you tend to go through more refinements of the ideas and more research – the brand-owner has more money to spend, and spends it on research.

The small brand client


Who: Hannah Gutteridge

Title: Head of communications and brand consultant, Naturally Gorgeous

Brand: Naturally Gorgeous


We launched the drinks in November and are the first UK brand to have a range with the appetite suppressant PinnoThin. The strapline is ‘Keeping you fuller for longer’ – satiety is going to be a big issue in 2008. We are a small start-up and don’t have huge amounts of money, but we’ve known from the beginning that the packaging is going to be important to sell the brand.

The designs we have look incredible. If you look at the shelf fixture in Waitrose, where it is stocked, the standout is really strong.

We didn’t call a pitch, but got in a design consultant called Richard Gray who previously worked for a company called 2Think. Our managing director Franco Beer had heard of him and seen his work and knew he was really good at putting ideas into practice.

He was given the brief, the philosophy of the brand, the target audience and how it was to be perceived. There were first and second phases of the design and we had an ongoing process of discussions as it gradually evolved. The brightly coloured design emerged over a period of time. We gave him a blank canvas to work from.


The small brand consultancy

Who: Tim Leslie-Smith

Title: Founding partner, Davies Leslie-Smith

Brands: Seafood & Eat It, Broad Oak Farm, Naija


What we like about working with small brands is that you actually get to talk to the people who make the decisions rather than presenting to managers and waiting for it to go up the tiers to the boardroom, until the decision is handed down again.

You can be quite challenging with the design because there is less pressure to conform to market forces – rather, you need to shout a bit louder, and you get more creative freedom. You often start with a blank canvas. There’s less bureaucracy, rarely any research – I wonder if research really brings out the best in design.

However, there are downsides, such as financial concerns. Often, the owners of small and start-up brands don’t appreciate quite what design involves, so you have to forget about extravagant photo-shoots hanging out of a helicopter. Small clients use you more as a consultant than bigger brands. We must remember that we are not selling design to designers but to ordinary people. They listen hard, but have their own strong opinions. We try not to blind them with design.

Start the discussionStart the discussion
  • Post a comment

Latest articles