Too many design leaders lacking in confidence

The best thing about reading Jonathan Ford’s article on the demeaning self-flagellation of free- pitching (DW 13 January) was the confidence with which he puts across his thoughtful argument. We hear such confidence from design leaders far too rarely – plenty of bluster, bits of empty arrogance, little confidence.

And it is this lack of confidence that has undermined all attempts so far to ban free-pitching. For all the lip service, the majority of consultancies will cave in under even moderate pressure with the self-justifying ‘others will, so we have to’ or ‘look at the long-term benefits’. (There very rarely are any, by the way – would you reward someone who puts such a low value on his skill?)

Ours is an oversupplied market and will continue to be for some time. In such a situation, we can either sell on price or differentiate, basing that differentiation on a focused offer and a meaningful client benefit, not just on case histories and personality.

Virtually all design groups have taken the first option, thereby seriously limiting their potential profit and the fun they will have along the way. We have allowed clients to fall into a practice that they believe, usually erroneously, can save them money. Net result: serious reduction in fee levels, as many surveys have confirmed.

While consultancies continue with a ‘We can do that, gi’s a job’ approach, and continue to use outmoded processes – that, for example, compartmentalise ‘strategic’ stages from ‘design’ stages and follow wasteful and slow design development processes that were in place before computers – nothing will change.

Yes, we can challenge the approach to free-pitching, but it demands a paradigm shift in the perception of what a design group is there for and how it delivers. I doubt that most of the design business is up for it. I suggest that the best approach is that those who can should follow the less-trodden path and create the alternative.

If it works, as I believe it will, others will follow.

Philip Lawder

Principal

Strategy for Innovation and Design

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