Bombast will never pad out your pitch

The design community has long been guilty of adopting marketing-speak to describe its activities. The idea of speaking the same language as the client is too often deemed to be a good thing – even when neither side really knows what they mean by the words they are using, or possibly both mean marginally different things. Real communication is lost in such exchanges and the consumer is the loser.

Design consultancies have, meanwhile, tended to “package” what they do in grander terms to elevate their offer to clients, or make up phrases to define the difference between themselves and their competitors. There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as the aim is to define, not confuse, and the claims reflect the consultancy’s abilities.

Hopefully, we’ve got better at that since “branding” took over as the catch-all term for most commercial design work, ending the semantics debate that raged in the late 1980s over the terminology of corporate identity. Who cares whether we’re talking about a logo or a marque, as long as it is fully understood by all concerned that there’s much more to identity than a visual device.

Martin Lambie-Nairn’s stunning work for the BBC – Best of Show in the tenth Design Week Awards (see News, page 3) – shows it has a job to do across all media to express a company’s culture to external audience and staff. It, like CDT Design’s identity for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport revealed last week, even shows a well-run identity programme can save cash.

It is disconcerting to find that a different form of jargon is infiltrating design schools, particularly on the design management front. Competition for full-time post-graduate students is escalating as grants dry up and courses are having to sell themselves hard. But that is no reason to bring in new, fashionable terms from management circles to tempt students in. Brunel University already boasts a Design Strategy & Innovation MA; last week plans by a rival college to brand its course Design Leadership were scotched by a course validation panel. What’s wrong with good old “design management”, a term understood by careers advisors and potential employers alike after some ten years in the marketplace?

Academics need to realise that there is more to defining their offer and equipping students to pursue their vocation than badging courses with 1990s words. There’s an empty ring to the phrase “design leadership” when the person claiming it has just left full-time education, aged 23. It takes years in practice to achieve that accolade.

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