A perfect combination leads to effective design

We have to thank the Design Council for unwittingly raising the important issue of design effectiveness again. By backing a new, untried awards scheme, the council has enraged those in the design industry who have battled for some seven years to see the Design Business Association’s Design Effectiveness Awards successfully established. David Rivett’s recent letter (DW 24 May) reflected that view, and I doubt the critics will be impressed by Paul Crake’s response (see

Letters opposite) that the council’s influence over the Marketing awards it sponsors is limited.

It does, however, give us licence to weigh up effectiveness as a way of measuring design success. The DBA awards focus on the bottom line, a valuable argument when you’re selling design to industry but only part of the story; prize schemes such as the Design Week Awards concentrate on creative excellence, but are judged by practitioners experienced enough to temper their verdict with commercial good sense; and then there are schemes such as the BBC Design Awards, which trawl public opinion to pick their winners.

These are all viable ways of gauging effectiveness, but the best judgement combines all three. There has to be much more to it than figures on a balance sheet when you consider how much design touches people’s lives.

Design effectiveness is about meeting goals – financial and others – and bringing joy or added convenience. The only way to know a design fits the bill is to set out clear objectives to this end at the outset of a job and make sure that the result at least meets those criteria.

It sounds simple, but it’s a procedure which is rarely adhered to. Projects that add up financially are too often aesthetically bland or an obvious triumph of marketing over design. Meanwhile, designers who shun commercialism for the sake of their art often fail to win work. Shrewder creatives and their clients understand that effectiveness isn’t about compromise, it’s about balance – and that great design just tips the scales.

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