DBA puts multi-skilled teams back on track…

We have to applaud the judges of the Design Effectiveness Awards for singling out the Heathrow Express rapid rail system to win this year’s Grand Prix. Not only have they selected a project that has radically improved access to London’s Heathrow Airport, they have acknowledged that truly effective design relies on a multidisciplinary team.

In this instance, six consultancies were honoured, from graphics and identity groups Glazer and Wolff Olins to architect Couves, making it one of the longest citations in the history of design prizes. And, because of the “partnership” nature of the awards, the client, in the form of Joanna O’Driscoll, now BAA’s design head at Heathrow, also took a bow – and rightly so. Co-ordinating the various players in such a project is no mean feat.

There is obviously a team behind any design job. There is also a client, without whom the project would not exist. But it is so rare to see the whole set-up recognised in this way, rather than singled out individually by their peers.

The Design Business Association, organiser of the awards, should be very proud of the outcome. But let’s hope it will serve as an example to the DBA and others that interdisciplinary activities can bear real fruit at a time when so many single disciplinary groupings are forming. The job of design’s membership bodies must surely be to facilitate dialogue between designers of different disciplines, rather than to point up their differences.

…but it soon goes off the rails

While the Heathrow Express deserves the accolades it won on Monday evening, it also strikes a note of caution to identity consultants who believe their skills are a sacred art. A journey from London’s Paddington Station to Heathrow is no longer necessarily a lesson in branding at its best. At least one of the service’s distinctive trains has broken rank and abandoned the livery created by Wolff Olins in favour of a Vodaphone ad running the full length of the carriage.

Nor is Heathrow Express the only transport system to have gone this way. Eurostar trains are also becoming advertising hoardings. Meanwhile, travelling business class on British Airways, you’ll see no signs of the former Newell and Sorrell’s colourful, if controversial world art programme. Instead, moody black and white photographs of European cities grace the crockery.

It makes you wonder what all the fuss surrounding the launch of identities such as BA’s is all about – and whatever happened to consistency.

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