Dream teams

Creativity, commercial nous, tenacity, personality, a sense of humour… companies aren’t easy to satisfy when it comes to what they want from the groups they appoint. Anna Richardson has the clients’ perspective on whether designers have the right strings to their bow

Design clients can pick and choose from the crème de la crème in consultancies, so a certain level of design skills is a given. For many on the client side some less tangible skills are what they’re after. ’In a funny kind of way, design and creativity almost went without saying,’ says Kate Blandford, former head of packaging design at Sainsbury’s and founder of Kate Blandford Consulting. ’You wouldn’t let [design consultancies] through the door unless they had evidence of creativity and design effectiveness – of not just having done beautiful work, but also producing sales-driving or penetration-driving work.’

At Sainsbury’s, the decision-making criteria were much more about personality and approach, explains Blandford. ’It’s a big turnoff when design consultancies want to talk about nothing but themselves, which sadly still happens a lot. They have to understand not to be self-indulgent, but to talk about what the client wants and needs, and how they can help to solve those issues.’

Clive Grinyer, director of customer experience at Cisco, agrees there needs to be a change in attitude among designers, especially if they want to succeed in the corporate sector. ’They have to tick all the boxes regarding creativity and design talent,’ he says. ’But designers also need the desire to transfer those skills to other situations and be willing to push on, in what is perhaps not always a friendly, or certainly is a less comfortable, working environment. The ability to extend your way of thinking and transfer it to different types of design is really important.’

Team work and collaboration are also high on clients’ wish lists. ’You get better output from everybody through shared knowledge and a bit of healthy creative competitiveness,’ says Blandford, while Joe Ferry, head of design at Virgin Atlantic Airways, states, ’The last thing we need is a prima donna.’

Commercial nous is equally vital to many clients. ’One of my hobby horses is how, as a nation, we are still checking graduates out of college with so little commercial knowledge,’ says Blandford. ’The whole design industry has to grow up about this – design consultancies that really understand their clients’ businesses are still fairly few. You have to have commercial skills and the people skills.’

Virgin Atlantic Airways, meanwhile, has an extensive in-house design team that takes care of the certification and safety constraints of the business, so outside consultancies need to bring a different dimension to the table. ’We look for designers or consultants that will invigorate our thinking,’ says Ferry. ’We like people with fresh approaches and look for outside consultants to enlighten us about new trends or paths in design.’

It’s about challenging conventions, and about perseverance, he adds, ’It takes a lot of effort and creative know-how to generate concepts that are fairly good, so to come up with the drop-dead-gorgeous concept takes a lot of energy and tenacity,’ he says.

What is lacking among designers is often more behavioural, according to Blandford, who objects to consultancies that ’stop selling to their clients’ once they’re in place: ’Consultancies have to continue to sell and market to existing clients, to keep them on the mailing list and make sure they tell them information before it hits the press.’

New business practice also needs to improve, she adds. ’The best consultancies are those who demonstrate an understanding, a personality, a point of view and a sense of humour – and they understand that [a potential client might get] several hundred e-mails a day. If they send a complex link to click through, the chances are they ain’t going to look at it.’

One aspect that has changed over the years among consultancies pitching to secure a job is the use of technology for presentations – which means that design thinking has to take centre stage from day one. Where in the past presentation skills very much drove whether designers got a job, with the computer renderings of today ’you can make something look incredibly good very quickly’, Ferry reckons. ’So now our focus is more on the inherent integrity of a design or the integrity of a concept, rather than whether we make it look funky from day one.’

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