Web window shopping

Got ten minutes to spare? Select your Internet search engine, type in “graphic design” and see where it takes you. It’s a simple way to see what a large number of consultancies are up to in a very small amount of time. It certainly beats wading through hundreds of tedious brochures.

This is by no means a scientific way to assess what’s going on. For one thing, many of the best groups aren’t registered with search engines. But however unrepresentative your journey, you’ll gain ideas, a few laughs and some insight into the way designers are presenting themselves on the Web.

For my most recent journey I opted to use yahoo.co.uk as the engine and decided to be as intuitive as possible in my selection. I planned to click on names that promised something unusual – I ignored anything beginning with the word design or graphic.

First stop; Beaver Design (bdesign. demon.co.uk). My first thought was that the consultancy’s name was just a cynical attempt to attract Internet traffic in search of porn, but it transpires it’s 20 years old (as a consultancy). This site is so clunky it looks like the outcome of a board meeting where everyone has agreed they need a presence on that Internet thing. “We wouldn’t have been around so long, if we weren’t valued!” declares one of their slogans, and for some reason this made me think of a gnarled potato lying in the back of a larder.

Next stop Black Pig (blackpig.co.uk). It’s made a bit of a pig’s ear of the look, but there’s so much energy and excitement here that it doesn’t matter. As well as pages on its work, this rural design company has its own e-shop (selling T-shirts and stuff) and a section on creating on-line shops for clients. Everything is full of personality and enterprise. It’s embraced the media and given the visitor much more than a weak-kneed stroll round their client list. I left remembering the enthusiasm, the entertaining animations and a great sign-off line – “the smelliest designers in Hertfordshire”.

Now drugs: Hot Knife (hotknife.demon.co.uk). For the uninitiated, hot-knifing is a messy business involving dope, a cylindrical device and, er, a very hot knife. There’s usually a student involved too. No wonder that at this site you’re greeted by a trippy and somewhat menacing baby. The intrigue stops there because inside you get dull “for you, the prospective client” copy on the right side of the screen and some “wacky” bits on the left. Both destroy the credibility of the other – usually a sign that a consultancy can’t integrate commerce and creativity. Still, this Nottingham-based group’s “design thought for the day” had some spirit. “If the powers of communication are so strong why does anybody/everybody live in London?” The answer, of course, is that in London you can watch Premiership football.

Onward to nologo (nologo.co.uk), a virtual consultancy which builds a team using freelances for each client. There are so many spelling mistakes in this site, I hope it doesn’t include copywriting in its offer. The graphic approach is little better – third rate Tomato circa 1995. Esoteric lines and rings take you to boxes containing ponderous client-facing copy. Then they hit you with an extraordinary offer – “We can design just one page, or we can redesign your whole identityä Plus, give us a quote from any other design consultancy and we’ll try our very best to beat it and give you a better and more personal service.”

Intrigued, I e-mailed the company and asked “is your offer a bit like John Lewis – if you can find this item (design work) cheaper anywhere else we will match their price?”, to which the reply was simply “yes”. Surely, if you are going to sell on price, you should forget attempting to masquerade as art school mavericks and be true to your offer? Visit 1800mylogo.com to see this done brilliantly.

And so, in memory of Apollo 11, to Rocket Design (rocket-design.com). This site greets you with an incantation resonating with biblical force. It begins, “In this day whatsoever serveth to reduce blindness and to increase vision is worthy of considerationä” and goes on. I was hooked! But then it simply reproduces the consultancy’s client list. Yawn. Where’s the character? Where’s the value for the visitor? Where’s the reason to come back? And why, for a group claiming interactive expertise and with the name rocket, has it failed to reply to my e-mail?

Therein lies my set of conclusions from this particular ten minute browse – lots of claims, lots of self-importance and lots of client names scattered around, but precious little personality, energy or value. But hey, at least you know you can get “design” cheaper on the Web.

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