Ideas about being bigger than the client aren’t funny

At a recent meeting, under the auspices of Packaging Solutions Advice Group, many of the most intelligent and creative minds in the design business were gathered to consider the perennial issue of free-pitching. Also present were three of the most influential buyers of design in the fmcg business.

It was a disappointment, therefore, to find that, by the end of the two-hour session, the ‘best’ solutions were around merging all the design consultancies so that we were bigger than the clients, putting sexy want ads in Time Out and phone boxes and pasting our lips shut with masking tape while a statement is read out about us being fired even though we have done a good job. The opportunity to break through to something valuable was thrown away in the determination to be ‘clever’.

Why is the design business so determined not to think as a business? Why, when faced with issues that are undermining the value and quality of our work, do people resort to first year art school humour, as if cuteness will make the problems go away.

The same themes of lack of differentiation, lack of confidence, poodle-like aimless enthusiasm rumble around as they have for 15 years. Ours is a business of enormous skill and massive effectiveness, but far too many seem determined to stay with cottage industry attitudes.

I go into many design groups and can clearly see the loss of joy and concern for the future. We are in serious and challenging times and must, if we are to continue to get satisfaction and pleasure from what we do, re-invent ourselves. The Titanic does not need another orchestra.

Philip Lawder

Managing director

Strategy for Innovation and Design

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