Don’t belittle craft skills as a key element in good design

A prominent designer-turned- design manager confided last week that she’d had to art direct a photoshoot for a communications campaign, for want of someone else to do it.

It isn’t that she’s missing the rigours of everyday life as a designer since she went client-side, or that she’s more of a control freak than others in her position. It’s just that the consultancy appointed to handle the campaign simply wasn’t up to that particular task, she explained. Though oozing ideas and claims of strategic expertise, the team had no experience of photoshoots and couldn’t even suggest a photographer for the job.

Those involved in this little debacle are probably smarting as they read these words, but do you recognise yourself in this? Have you and your consultancy kept the faith or have you lost sight of those qualities and skills that make for great design, setting it aside from other marketing services activities?

Howard Milton is a staunch advocate of nurturing those skills. His consultancy, Smith & Milton, has traded on well-crafted design throughout its 20-year life. Even though it has been through the mill like other branding groups, it is one of the traits that sets it apart. For S&M, as for many groups of a similar vintage, drawing has been the focus for developing craft skills within the team. Creatives and suits alike are encouraged to hone their skills.

But, as the design manager’s experience shows, there is more to design. Selecting photographers, illustrators, model-makers and, indeed, printers is as key to the success of a project as strategy – so are art direction and writing.

Yet few design groups – or design bodies other than the lofty D&AD – seek to foster these attributes. Most play up their ability to ‘think’ or to deliver, surely both givens.

Who knows if the client will give the group that failed the photoshoot test another chance. But how galling to be remembered for such a shortcoming. We should all learn from the experience and bone up on craft skills.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor – Design Week

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