Don’t be scared of advertising

As ad agencies strengthen their design units, what does the shifting creative arena mean for the future of the design business? asks Jonathan Ford

As ad agencies strengthen their design units, what does the shifting creative arena mean for the future of the design business? asks Jonathan Ford

With ad agencies such as Saatchi and Saatchi looking to bolster their design units (DW 13 July), we could ask whether the creative shift is gaining yet further momentum. But, rather than once again pitching design groups against their advertising counterparts or debating the power balance, we may need to concentrate on what the shifting creative landscape means for the future of design.

The design business already has design at its heart and if, as an industry, we start to be proud of being designers rather than suppliers and understand the real value of our expertise, then the design business has nothing to fear from the advertising industry or ourselves. The design businesses of the future need to be truly visionary, and this is both the opportunity and the challenge for the design industry today – building a business that is more flexible, independent, individualistic and fluid.

These values are also important when we look at how we embrace modern cultural thinking. The brand is an expression of a living, breathing culture that needs inspiration and provocation, and the designer can help to influence and shape this culture by bringing independent insight and inspiring and enriching the overall brand proposition.

Maybe the way we think we should work, for example, by taking an ethical or moral standpoint or our choice of clients to work with, is what sets us apart and opens the door to brands that may not have approached us, thinking that we were out of their league in terms of price.

In the current climate, it’s not just about the bottom line. No price can be put on reputation and those who succeed will be those who base their work on a quality of thinking and how this thinking is produced by focusing on a more multidimensional offer in terms of both our design capabilities and our approach to the wider world.

This brings us to the importance of culture and the structure of teams on an internal level. Design businesses need to continue bringing together an increasing diversity of disciplines, from creative talent to writers and planners, with design business owners looking at the best way to fuse this talent and encourage creative thinking in their company.

Not everyone can be a designer. But a creative thinker can design, which is why the suit versus creative mindset is a shackle that will hold creative cultures back. It’s not about the size of the group or the team, but about adapting talent to produce the best brand thinking on an international level and in a multicultural environment to create the optimum, and most visually intelligent, brand design solution.

This collaborative approach should also inform the way we work with clients and brand owners. In the past 15 to 20 years, we have seen a massive shift, with many brand owners understanding that brands need to be designed, not simply communicated or advertised. But design can only be visionary when the client allows it to be so.

It’s time for designers to be more proactive and look at ways to educate clients about the value of design as an integral part of brand strategy and a long-term investment. If the ad agencies of the 20th century were empire builders, then the design business of the 21st century need to be team builders. As part of the brand team, designers can help develop a new generation of marketers who are as passionate about the role of design as the designers themselves.

Essentially, the successful visionary brands of the future will need to do much more than simply guarantee a consistent quality. Technology is helping us drive change, but we need to know what to use, how to use it and what to leave out. My experience is that people buy from people, and that these brands will also need to be shaped by a personal vision. Therefore, the challenge for the design businesses of the 21st century will be to protect that independence, yet harness its global and multidimensional talent.

Designers understand the way the world is changing and they can lead that change. It’s a fantastic opportunity and an awesome responsibility. What’s the threat? Not recognising that we need to adapt.

Jonathan Ford is creative partner of Pearlfisher


The design Group of the future:

Vision – the design business model of the future will need to be truly visionary: flexible, independent, individualistic and fluid

Multidimensional – foster a specialist skill set and embrace both a multidimensional approach and modern cultural thinking

Educate and collaborate – designers will need to become powerful educators and collaborators to develop a generation of marketers who are passionate about the role of design

Reputation – create a culture that values and is inspirational for those you work for and with. Those who succeed will be those who produce unique, desirable and successful design

Independence – design can lead change. The challenge will be to retain independence, yet harness multidimensional talent

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