Being open to challenges can shape design’s future

France’s shock defeat by newcomer Senegal in the first match of the World Cup serves as a timely reminder that you can’t be complacent and expect to survive. It’s a question of being open to new challenges and meeting them head on.

Most consultancies have had to make cutbacks in light of economic decline – our Top 100 Consultancy Survey supplement to be published next week will paint a clearer picture of this. Though hotly denied at this stage, press reports this week that French conglomerate Havas, owner of Conran Design Group, AMX and CGI Brandsense among others, is in talks to buy Fitch parent Cordiant Communications Group suggest any deal there would also be a result of the downturn.

But how many have tried to turn a tough situation into an opportunity to rethink their offer to sidestep further traumas in the way that Landor Associates claims to have done? Its London managing director Charlie Wrench says personnel changes are partly to give better service to clients in the Middle East, but are also in line with a longer term plan to build stronger relationships with clients by boosting its front-end capabilities.

It’s not just the more enlightened mega groups that are making significant shifts though. Smaller, specialist consultancies with nerve are battling on and finding new outlets for their talents.

Retail specialist 20/20 has led the way in the bid for non-UK commissions, having transformed its client portfolio over the past couple of years. But now interiors group Lumsden Design Partnership is bouncing back with overseas clients such as Vienna’s Albertina Museum and is believed to have another in the offing. Design House, meanwhile, is charting new territory, with a client in South America.

But you don’t have to look outside the UK to find new markets. Recent reports suggest, for example, that both accountants and architects are trying to build their public standing and design will surely have a role to play.

Better still are those groups genuinely trying to do things differently. Hemingway Design, for example, set up by Red or Dead founders Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway, has crossed boundaries from fashion with great success. Newer trail-blazers include Saffron, the Madrid-based global branding group that boasts Wally Olins as chairman that is tackling perception of issues like social housing through a mix of thinking and design.

With so much in flux, it is hard to predict where design will be in 12 months’ time. But uncertain times tend to sharpen intent and can lead to big breakthroughs. It would be good to see more in design seizing the higher ground and shaping the industry’s future.

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