Shades of efficiency

It will come as no surprise to designers that CDT Design’s new identity for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has cost less to reproduce on stationery than the previous image (see News, page 3).

The judicious use of colour for the abstract background to the logotype means only a single colour is used for each application and printing of the modern device will be easier than for the old coat of arms.

But news of a 20 per cent saving for the initial print run bodes well, not just for this project, but for the Design Council’s bid to bring design’s advantages to the attention of key players across the Civil Service.

It will have particular relevance for the most recent initiative announced by the council, headed by design management consultant Jane Priestman and involving the DCMS, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department of Education and Employment and the Department of Trade and Industry (DW 22 January).

The four departments are swapping notes on design management practice in working environments, communication and design procurement. Under Priestman’s guidance, they will draw up proposals based on their findings with a view to them being implemented across central and local government agencies.

The DCMS experience will help to allay fears over the cost of design – and justify the outlay of 79 000 in design fees to CDT through evidence of cost-savings. But it should also give insight into the underlying process of an identity programme – or, indeed, any big design project – giving the lie to the view that an identity job just involves a logo.

According to Priestman, DCMS staff were “rather surprised by the cost savings”. She credits a thorough identity analysis by CDT for the effectiveness of the design, but says, “It will need all the support available… and it remains for the DCMS to position it securely within the department.”

Priestman has advised all the Government departments she works with to carry out an 18-month review of their own identities to find out exactly where cost-savings can be made.

The DCMS project began in earnest in November 1997, when CDT was appointed by Culture Secretary Chris Smith to help the newly named DCMS (formerly the Department of National Heritage) raise its profile in Whitehall.

The department has a diverse audience, including the media and the public. The appointment of CDT followed consultation with the Design Council about commissioning an identity review and followed Design Business Association guidelines.

CDT’s priorities were to give definition to the department’s “sphere of activities” and stress the cultural aspects of its work. Following two meetings with DCMS staff, the consultancy conducted a six-month communications audit, canvassing views from ministers, civil servants and others involved with the department to assess how its communications matched Smith’s vision.

The findings were reported in Expressing the Vision, a CDT document published last July. Only then did work start on the visual aspect of the identity, which was presented to Smith last October.

A leak to the Press Association prompted media comments from senior civil servants that the new marque was “childish” and the exercise “madness”. But thanks to Smith’s commitment, the project went ahead, proving the importance of having a champion within any organisation going through an identity change.

CDT director Mike Dempsey is confident that the new marque adequately does its job, avoiding what he terms “corporate blandness”. The “humble letterheading is slightly surprising”, he says. “It is a very unlikely image to come out of a Government department.”

Design Council government and media director Martin Brown hadn’t seen the identity as Design Week went to press. But he says it is important because “It’s the first time… a Government department has set an objective to follow best practice for getting a new identity.”

The result will inevitably be subject to scrutiny, in the House of Commons and by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. We await the design industry’s own response with interest.

DCMS identity elements

The marque incorporates the letters DCMS in lower case set in Jeremy Tankard’s 1997 sans serif Bliss typeface within a square. This is set against an abstract patch of a single colour, taken from a palette of 15. Colours will be applied in batches of six used in rotation across stationery for the entire department.

Other copy will use a mix of Bliss – chosen, according to CDT Design director Mike Dempsey because ‘It is modern, but has a clear connection with classic faces like Gill’ – and traditional serif face Bell, created by Richard Austin in 1788.

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