Dissolving the digital divide

Digital media is now such an integral part of design that consultancies must embrace the constant change to survive, says Mike Curtis

We all understand that the one constant in design is change. Change is built into the way the design industry operates. That’s true for all aspects of design, from product design and interior design to graphic design.

As designers, we are managing messages and products on behalf of consumers and clients. We are balancing consumer needs, business requirements and production or manufacturing processes. And all of these are continually influenced by the digital revolution.

It’s a prerequisite for a design consultancy to embrace the digital economy. That must mean having a digital capability as part of the offer, even if it’s not in-house. Moreover, any consultancy has to be seeking out where even digital is beginning to change – in the new areas of social software, for example. All design consultancies need to continue to invest in their ability to remain relevant in the marketplace.

We believe it is imperative to constantly invest in areas of change. Digital media is just one example of this. Yes, there has been a lot of renewed interest in digital media – clients demand this.

Start Creative was founded ten years ago to invest in and exploit digital opportunities. We consider ourselves to be a digital consultancy, but we don’t see this as a label for the type of work we do, so much as an indication of how we do it.

Our success comes partly from understanding the opportunities that the digital economy brings and balancing that with the role we play as designers. The underlying technologies have to be understood and the massive impacts on consumer behaviours need to be properly digested.

But the one thing we know is that this constantly changes. So, digital is one strand of our integrated approach to creativity, alongside a focus on ideas and, importantly, on the people who work in the consultancy.

Our experience says that digital work is simply one part of the bigger design picture. When the BBC asked us to make its brand more easily accessible to commercial partners, clearly this became a digital project. Its success, however, rested on the fact that we anchored the essence of the BBC in a written narrative, which reflected the way people interact with and perceive the brand.

We believe design is all about creative ideas. If you have a good enough idea, then the outputs will necessarily be able to work across all media. Opportunities, such as blogs, Wikis and podcasts, are only ever the media for creativity.

We believe that, in the future, the distinction between design and digital will become less and less significant, as the premium will be on ideas and creativity. That doesn’t mean to say that digital solutions can not be creative in their own right – they can. That is why we believe design and digital are the same thing.

The digital economy is itself forever changing, as people find new applications for technology, enabling them to create, interact and communicate in many different and new ways. Understanding and supporting these innovations is crucial for any design consultancy wanting to remain relevant to its clients and its clients’ audiences.

We have an association with the Scrawl Collective, an ‘underground’ group of street artists who have a strong sense of community and understand how the digital economy can be used to build reputations. Scrawl collaborates with us on project work and we, in turn, support it through technology.

We believe our future success lies in supporting the creativity of our people and not just what they do in the studio from day to day. We make a point of investing in the creativity of our own staff, with everyone encouraged to be creative both inside and outside the consultancy.

For example, Mike Dorrian, who produced Scrawl’s book of urban art ten years ago, has recently researched (with Gavin Lucas) and designed a book about guerrilla advertising. This shows how innovative, global brands are increasingly moving into alternative media, in addition to their investment in digital media.

So, while a lot of clients are now taking digital seriously, design consultancies that want to stay relevant will understand this as a part of the constant change within our industry.

We have naturally gravitated towards being a digital consultancy, while recognising that digital, like design, is about creativity and people. It’s people and creativity – not digital in itself – that are the exciting part of our future.

Mike Curtis is founder and managing director of Start Creative


• Design is necessarily digital already

• Having a digital capability is not really optional

• The distinction between design and digital is disappearing

• But there can be many strands to an integrated business approach

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