It may be time to prepare for a recovery next year

If WPP Group boss Sir Martin Sorrell reckons the US market has started to get out of the bath, then economic recovery must be at hand. Sorrell is, of course, talking about the whole marketing services arena, of which design is a small part. But while he is possibly looking to restore the fortunes of his lucrative advertising and public relations interests first, there is bound to be a knock-on effect for design in renewed business activity.

Sorrell’s projections have come at a good time. They provide a welcome boost at the start of the new ‘term’ as design groups steel themselves for another round of new business pitches. It’s not going to be easy, but for many consultancy bosses things were beginning to click into place at last as the silly season started.

It has been a summer of silence – as the dearth of big news stories in Design Week attest. But we are promised much for the autumn as clients remove the gag increasingly placed on design groups, allowing them to talk about their work as it reaches completion.

We can expect much on the retail front over the next month or so, with a host of new shops and store formats due to be unveiled. Fees may be down on previous years for similar projects and the work has been harder to win, but retailers are still backing design as a way of tempting customers in to their stores.

Museum work continues apace, with venues such as the Museum of London planning major projects, while others are planning new events. We are told by product designers that structural packaging continues to grow – perhaps not as sexy as pack branding, but vital to customer convenience and cutting production costs. And then there is in-house design, which is gaining strength and respectability.

So it isn’t all bad out there and prospects look more solid. Every business needs communications, be they digital or print. What they might not need in the immediate future are the full-blown identity programmes that were core work for many of Sorrell’s design interests.

Even more positive are the new moves of recent months. Design’s role is being rethought by new groups such as Digit spin-off All of Us (DW 21 August), which believe there are more interesting customer-facing ways of developing digital design than on the Web. Then there are product groups like Kinneir Dufort, Factory Design and Priestman Goode stepping sideways into packaging.

It’s a great time for change and new ideas as long as you have the energy to see them through. It’s worth the effort now, given that recovery is apparently at hand. Remember Sorrell’s predictions earlier in the year that 2004 was the year to look to for that – it’s not far away.

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