The debate was structured around the question ‘Who buys design and does good design ever get considered as an asset?’
The context was, with budgets so squeezed, can brands and packaging specifiers (representatives of whom made up the audience) afford to invest in design, and what can design bring for them?
One of the main feelings I picked up from the crowd – which surprised me – was a strong distrust of design, which seemed to be seen as a cost, rather than an asset, as well as a lack of understanding about what it could bring to a business.
I found myself trotting out the well-worn phrase ‘design is not just about making things look nice.’ Design, of course, can be about changing the way businesses think, act, and portray themselves.
Now, obviously, it’s no simple thing to get to the stage where clients trust designers to allow this to happen.
For example, one audience member asked why the designer he was using kept proposing creative work that couldn’t possibly be used on the packaging material he had specified. As all the panel pointed out – he was clearly using the wrong designer.
But while designers obviously have a responsibility to fulfil the brief, clients have a responsibility to set clear, open briefs, and bring the designer in at the earliest possible chance.
They should be open to being challenged, to exploring unexpected avenues and, potentially, to ending up with something they didn’t expect.
They should make their designers really work – after all, they need to get their money’s worth.
Webb deVlam managing partner Tim Perry, who also sat on the panel, summed it up best, ‘Don’t tell us what to do – set us a challenge.’