Designers can contribute creatively and strategically

Following on from your Vox Pop (DW 20 February), traditional design businesses aren’t fleet-of-foot enough to partner clients on the decisions they need to take in order to develop their brands.

So should consultants offer strategic advice to their clients?

Designers are definitely qualified by training and attitude to give advice on product and service futures. Designers stay close to end users, are adept at making lateral connections, require little specific knowledge to go to work on a problem and are natural, even compulsive culture browsers. If creativity is about making connections, designers are definitely able to contribute creatively to direction as well as execution.

But, should consultancies offer strategic advice? Up to a point perhaps. As Kevin Thompson pointed out at the PSAG debate, strategy is about much more than demonstrating that you’ve considered your design in the client’s broader business context or that you can imagine a roadmap for its evolution. This at best is product strategy – strategic in the sense that any design is a step forward.

But strategy must surely have to engage with much broader brand-philosophical issues, a considered development of internal communications, culture and process, customer relationship management, environments, tone-of-voice and so on.

And speaking from experience as a consultancy product designer, I’m not convinced despite arguments to the contrary, that a design business with incumbent resources skilled in a core discipline is free, fluent and fleet-footed enough to really partner brand and marketing directors in steering their brands.

In reality the business model thing is an inhibitor to groups moving up-stream. The industry has educated clients for years that design is about implementation services. It’ll take designers, not design businesses, to make the bold step of leaving behind the discipline they were trained in and consoling themselves that they may never actually design another package, product or website.

Then they’ll be able to swim upstream and really start putting their natural talents, design attitude and new found perspectives to work helping to build brands.

Joe Heapy

Director

Engine Group

London NW5

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