The design for print business faces uncertain times. As corporate communications is experiencing something of a digital renaissance, the only certainty is change. There is much evidence to show that hi-tech communications are, in fact, boosting traditional paper-based media (using them to good effect rather than replacing them). But there is certainly no guarantee that design for print traditionalists will get an easy ride in the years to come.
Consultancies in the field are increasingly being called upon by clients to look beyond print, and this is understandable. Retaining uniformity throughout corporate communications is a priority in the present climate of proliferating media. The need for flexibility is essential.
Clients with ambitions to catch a ride on the technology wave have to some extent had to lead the way. One of the biggest employers of print design groups, BT, recently instigated a restructure of all of its consultancy rosters, after realising that its three-year-old design for print roster was not suitable for future requirements as a communications specialist.
The review saw BT replace eight consultancies on the 20-strong roster for their integrated print and Web services (it also has a multimedia roster). In total 11 of the 20 consultancies on the design for print roster can now provide BT with both disciplines when necessary.
There is concern among hi-tech clients that some design groups, rather than anticipating a client company’s changing needs, are only recognising the antiquated nature of their design offer after they have been replaced by more forward-thinking consultancies (or may be avoiding the deduction altogether). The question is whether this could mark the beginning of a paradigm shift in sectors outside of telecoms and IT. If the need for integrated print and Web communications extends across a greater number of industries than the technology sector, consultancies will need to adapt.
Prudential’s Egg is one of a number of newly-launched outfits which is perhaps so forward-looking that it is still pinning down its own identity. Launched as a direct bank last October, it more recently took the decision to move firmly towards Web products and services. Egg brand manager Damon Reynolds says: “We have changed our positioning, moving more towards e-commerce,” and have had to adopt the products it is offering very quickly. Because of this structure, Egg’s print specifications also need to match its Web specifications.
“It comes down to working with groups which understand the strategy and are committed to producing a consistent message. Whatever they are creating – copy, design, photography – these are all integrated,” Reynolds adds. Egg currently works with Brown Inc, which created its identity.
Of course, not all companies fall into the category of hi-tech communications outfits. And there will always be an important place for the print specialist. The Chase in Manchester is an unshrinking print traditionalist which is currently carrying out big print design projects with the National Trust, The Co-operative Bank and the Co-operative Insurance Society.
“We have adapted our outlook”, says head of new business Martin Monks. “But The Chase is a traditional print-based consultancy. I don’t think there is a need to sell yourself [as anything else]. We do work with other specialists… but it [print] is not just a question of relationship building but about building the brand.”
He adds that recently a lot of the consultancy’s clients, such as The Baxi Partnership, have started to come back to the idea of using print: “We have found our print has grown enormously – a lot of our clients have revisited it afresh so our print work has doubled.”
Monks sees the shift to print and Web integration as a product of certain sectors. “I don’t think there is a shift across all market sectors… but I don’t think this is isolated to just one industry sector either,” he says.
Meanwhile, Pentagram partner and consultant to Boots John McConnell offers a note of caution too to the technology-craving consultancies, be they Web or print designers. “The evidence is that technology never cuts costs. Capital equipment is an expensive investment and you have to write it off in a couple of years [rather than 20 or 30].”
He also suggests that the proliferation of Net-based organisations has increased rather than decreased the amount of print work – the new media seems to be using the old media as well.
Paul Davis of Agenda Design Associates recognises that certain industry sectors which can benefit from automated booking systems, such as travel or finance, will look increasingly for new media capabilities. This should be part of an integrated marketing approach, with design at its core. However, “the tactile qualities of print will always be integral to certain sectors”, he says. Agenda is currently producing the bulk of the consumer literature for the New Millennium Experience Company.
Boots the Chemists art director Peter Ramskill is perturbed by “scary” multimedia-led consultancies awestruck by moving graphics and unconcerned with the craft refined by print designers over generations. He feels the print discipline teaches designers important skills equally necessary for the Web, and is concerned about the number of consultancies which have not made the transition from print to multimedia. “Those that have made the transition can see the importance of print [skills] in [Web] communications. There is a lot of bad advice coming from people in the electronic industry.”
Should it really take the client to move the direction of the consultancies which service it, or should it be for the consultancy to anticipate, indeed originate the skill shifts itself? Maybe the eight consultancies dropped from the BT design for print roster should not be seen as casualties of new media. Nevertheless, it will certainly pay consultancies to remain open to the principle of diversification, and to keep one eye firmly fixed on the future direction of their clients.
M G Group
Estimated annual print spend: £2m
Consultancy roster: Bamber Forsyth for annual report and accounts; Evans Hunt Scott for below-the-line work (direct mail and point-of-sale)
Print range: annual report, mail packs, customer guides and literature, sales aids, presentation packs, point-of-sale material
Investment manager M G Group had an old style report and accounts which, according to an independent research group, made it sound like an old grandfather. M G communications director Rachel Medill brought the report under her wing four years ago, and its consultancy of 16 years, Bamber Forsyth, took up the challenge of turning things around.
‘There has been an enormous change in the way we present figures and design layouts. I wanted to make it interesting for the smaller shareholders as well as the big ones. Bamber Forsyth said we should use pictures to tell a story – they should tell our readers what is going on.
‘Now when we begin a report and accounts, I say “this is what I want to convey” and they will start thinking about the kinds of images to use,’ says Medill.
Bamber Forsyth partner Keith Bamber says: ‘I think a lot of companies like M G have understood that there is less and less perceived difference between one product and the next. On such a level playing field the brand has a much more important role. All the literature is about communicating the brand to the customer. A few years ago, it was said that M G talked at people. The last few years have been about trying to become more accessible in its tone of voice and visual impact.
‘It is no good producing fantastic visual material if it doesn’t work on a basic communications level. In the late Eighties this seemed to go out the window. While design barriers need to be pushed, it must not be at the expense of the message. We are in the business of communications,’ he adds.
Estimated annual print spend: £15m
Design for print consultancy roster: BCG Communications, BCLO, Bostock Pollitt, Chandler Gooding, Coley Porter Bell, Dawson Meadows, Design House, DMLFF, EH6, H P Graphics, Harlequin Design Consultants, Light Coley, Mahony Associates, Premm Design Associates, Stocks Austin Sice, The Turquoise Consultancy, Unigraph, Westhill Associates, Whitedoor
Range of print material: internal newsletters, business to business sales material, consumer mailings, sales guides, user instructions, point-of-sale material
BT has the somewhat unenviable task of potentially working with some 150 approved print suppliers. It operates numerous consultancy rosters which are in an almost constant state of flux to accommodate its evolving design needs.
‘Design for print involves a huge number of people, getting on for 1000 people commissioning work. It is fairly low-level stuff, but it all adds up, with a lot of conflicting messages going out, and conflicting qualities of creativity and branding,’ says BT supplier manager Paul Stringer.
‘One of the challenges for us has been to find consultancies which understand marketing communications, but are also competent in the new media area. There are a lot of multimedia companies around, but very few of them understand the standards which we are expecting in marketing communications,’ says BT head of design David Mercer.
‘We are doing gradually less and less design for print and doing more and more Internet work, so we want people who really have started moving in that direction. Not all of them can offer that – there are one or two which are still firmly in the traditional area,’ adds Stringer.
BT is now attempting to roll out a more uniform and modern feel across the whole of its communications work including print, reflecting this change in spirit.
Its recently launched ET ad campaign sports a sans serif headline typeface designed with Enterprise IG, in conjunction with typeface specialist Dalton Maag. A text version is also set to launch any day.
‘The sans serif design is in the humanist tradition, but they [BT] wanted to keep some of the feel of the [Century] Old Style. Enterprise IG was the driving force in getting rid of the serif,’ says Dalton Maag partner Bruno Maag.
Boots the Chemists
Estimated annual print spend: over £10m
Print consultancy roster: 20-strong packaging design roster handled by John McConnell; roster for miscellaneous work handled by Peter Ramskill comprises Cunningham Design, The Chase, Fox Booth
Print range: leaflets, catalogues, signage, window graphics, point-of-sale material, direct mail
Boots the Chemists has developed its consumer print offering to take some advantage of technology, but the company does not see technology, as a replacement for the medium.
Pentagram partner John McConnell has served as a design consultant on many of the Boots projects. ‘They are experimenting with the digital printing process now,’ he says. ‘Using digital photography the image can go straight to plate – or cut out plates altogether.’ For a mass retailer, he adds, the Boots catalogues are of comparatively good quality. McConnell points out that this technology has called for new skill sets for the Boots in-house designers, such as the ability to work with highly accurate layouts.
Boots art director Peter Ramskill says trialing the digital photography of product shots enables better image manipulation and cuts out the monumental number of transparencies which used to be needed.
‘This is partly so we can archive and also so we can retain a common sense of purpose and identity. A lot of companies produce the next edition of a catalogue, but we have a lot of catalogues out there at any one time.’
Although Ramskill says Boots has begun trialing home shopping initiatives such as Internet ordering and a cable TV trial in Hull, he is a stalwart of print. ‘I think print has a texture and a sensitivity which can never be matched by the screen and there is also the irony that it [technology] has created more printed material,’ he says.