Take some time to reflect

Design consultancies spend so much time on their clients’ identities, they have little time to devote to their own, says Colin Gifford.

Design consultancies spend so much time on their clients’ identities, they have little time to devote to their own, says Colin Gifford

Isn’t it surprising how many design consultancies sport a neutral identity – elegant type, sensitive layout, beautiful execution, but not the ideas-based, notice-me solutions we sell to our clients. Why is this?

Obviously, it’s not a lack of creative talent. Perhaps it is a clever ploy, a deliberate response to the fact that a design consultancy’s client base is so broad and we want to be all things to all men. Or is it that we are too close to the problem to be objective? Or perhaps so busy tackling our client’s design issues that we have little time for our own?

We all know that when reviewing an existing identity, it’s important to establish why – or indeed if – the old one needs redesigning. For many design groups, this has resulted in the adoption or development of compelling processes that help us gain insights into our clients’ companies – brainstorming, research, workshops and so on. While our different takes on these investigative processes are often used to help us differentiate ourselves in our industry’s crowded marketplace, they are rarely reflected bravely by the visual identities we design for our own consultancies.

None of us is in much doubt that identity design has to be appropriate and that strategic direction informed by understanding is easily as valuable as the finished design solution – and it entails just as much hard work. I believe there is a consensus among designers that a strategic approach helps our clients to distil and articulate their vision, values and proposition, and has other benefits too. We have all seen first hand how it can make clients and employees feel involved in their organisation and its decision making. In larger organisations, it can help to secure buy-in from all stakeholders. In smaller organisations, it might be the only time they get to think about their company in an objective, aspirational way.

Doing it for ourselves has brought home to us the value of many of these benefits and more. Everyone in the studio has been involved and consequently motivated by the process, and we have discovered things about ourselves as a company, from each other, that will definitely inform the ultimate design. Certainly we are better able to articulate who we are, how we have changed in the ten years we have been going, and where we are heading now.

Funnily enough, it seems it is not the particular method or process you choose to employ to build the strategy, but the very fact that you have committed to doing it at all. Fundamentally, it’s about creating space – structured, focused ‘time out’ in which to reflect on the past, assess the present and reconsider the future. And while we have realised that it is essential to do this, it is also a luxury, given that every hour is already committed to taking care of clients. It certainly makes you appreciate the commitment a client has to make when we take them through an identity review.

Time and again, we see that the processes we, as an industry, use are effective mechanisms for discovering essential truths about our clients’ businesses. What we have learned through our own identity review is that, given the space, the answers are probably there, but they’re buried. A growing business knows its market, its customers and clients, its strengths and weaknesses. That’s often why it is growing rather than static or declining – it might just not have created the space to articulate it.

We have now invested quite some time in our identity review. After some initial internal discussions and head scratching, we came to the amazing conclusion that the only way to address the problem was to follow the same process that we recommend and use every day with our clients.

The fact that no one has yet put pencil to paper on the design solution doesn’t worry us. We have come a very long way. We now have a strategy for continued growth. We know how we want to be seen and what we have to offer. We have consensus on a pretty robust design brief. Whatever design solution we ultimately produce – whether it is a modification of our existing identity, a complete overhaul or a gentle tweak, we are at least certain that it will be born out of aspiration, rather than just gut instinct or fear. We are lucky too, to have an understanding client when it come to deadlines. Let’s face it, what more could a design consultancy want? Besides an enormous fee.

Colin Gifford is creative director of Blast Design


• Why do so many design consultancies fail to brand themselves effectively?

• How many design groups apply their own principles of communication to themselves?

• Design groups must make time in their busy schedules to address their brands, or risk failure

• It’s as much about clarifying your vision and purpose as it is about visual communication

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