Design Futures – Managing Change

Posted on in BrandBlab

As a branding and design consultant I am highly aware of the pressures forcing us all to keep ahead of changing market trends. Some areas of design are potentially becoming a commodity with everyone it seems providing ‘design’, whether printers or shopfitters, for example, and more accessible technology enabling individuals to design their own web sites, create their own brochures, etc. Designers need to constantly re-evaluate what they offer and how to stay relevant to fast changing client needs.

Design means change but surprisingly some designers, agencies and consultants find this difficult when the issue is applied to themselves.

One example is the way we design. The trend for increasing internet retailing and digital media is changing the way designers need to think about concept visual development. The era of translating static corporate identities, visual design signatures and branded environments to web communication and screen technology is now potentially in reverse. Designing for animation and the dynamic morphing of visual brand concepts can now become the leading design idea and key brand touchpoint. How this translates to static print, signage and environments then becomes the secondary priority.

This creates interesting challenges for designers trained in classic corporate identity and branding, steeped in the nuances of script, typefaces, graphics and interior design. The next generation of future designers born with a screen in their hand and reared on dynamic imagery from birth must change traditional ways of thinking and designing. The same is happening for marketing professionals coming to terms with the challenges of social media, which is transforming the roles of advertising agencies and the media spend priorities of corporations grappling with the age of instant access and engagement.

The world of design covers a vast range of skills and disciplines with the common link of creativity and innovation. Commercial design, by definition, must meet strategic business criteria. Unfortunately too often ‘creatives’ are seen as the cosmetic guys – dealing with the ‘soft’ emotional and un-measurable aspects of modern business life whether in marketing and communications, or the more tangible design area of architecture, environment design, graphics, corporate identity and product design.

Ultimately design is measured by ‘fitness for purpose’. As an architect I was educated in the ‘form follows function’ school. I still believe this but the functions become more complex. Meeting emotional needs of image, taste and pleasure and the operational criteria of efficiency, cost and time is the true test of any design. Unfortunately in the business world the comfort zones of management tend to be the ‘measurable’ aspects of cost and time. While most managements acknowledge the need to develop their products and services as ‘brands’ and differentiated ‘brand experiences’ they have difficulty in dealing with the creative world of agencies and consultants who sell ‘branding’. I have some sympathy as the conflicting advice and services of branding and design specialists is so often based on the education discipline of the individuals concerned and can typically range from
advertising agencies to management consultancies.

I would like to believe architects should be seen as prime movers in change management. Designing buildings, public spaces and creating relevant places that people want to use, experience and enjoy is a key function of good design. This means change ideally to better solutions, environments and activities. Changing the way people think and act however demands the best skills in communications and combination of emotional and rational intelligence.

An increasingly vital aspect of modern business life is creating a positively differentiated internal company culture. I am increasingly asked to provide talks on the importance of Employer Branding – developing the reputation and image of a company as a ‘first choice’ place to work. In terms of measurability the true costs of staff turnover, loss of management experience, the sheer inefficiency of department silo mentality and de-motivated employees are potentially enormous. The calibre and attitude of customer facing staff is now a key differentiation factor for companies. The effect on sales and the overall company brand equity cannot be overestimated.

In a competitive world of uncertainty, mergers and acquisitions, changing offers and job functions it becomes critical to attract and retain the best staff. Staff centricity should be as important as the standard corporate mantra of customer centricity. Management culture in some developing (as well as so-called developed) markets can be dire but the potential for creating a synergy between external marketing and services and internal communication and environments, is starting to be understood.

The shortage of qualified experienced staff in BRIC economies means poaching is endemic and creates management ambivalence to an investment in training. There are signs that indicate this vicious circle is ending and we see the development of differentiated brand cultures becoming a key future trend and management priority.

The creative sector should be in the forefront of these new aspirations given the need for innovative workplace environments and effective communication across increasingly diverse organisations and working patterns. Workplace design should reflect the company ethos and locality particularly for international operations. Setting a corporate look that must be the same worldwide immediately ignores the fact different cultures, markets and countries look and feel differently about design, colour and imagery. Capturing a company essence and translating to a local mindset is a fascinating challenge but worthwhile to avoid a cloned corporate look disseminated from a remote head office. However, these emotional criteria need to be balanced with practical operational criteria to be cost effective, easily implemented and managed to achieve appropriate consistency and quality. So design functionality needs to meet both the emotional requirement to reflect local mindsets, aspirations and achieve engagement together with the need for satisfying all department agendas, HR and
marketing as well as real estate and finance directors!

Designers by definition should be constantly embracing change and new roles but can be reluctant to move on from the comfort zone of their original training. Today, more than ever, a consistent reality for anyone involved in design in the future is that the winners will be those who recognise and are ready to meet the challenges of managing creative change. A key attribute will be the willingness to embrace and collaborate with a range of like-minded expertise to ensure optimum solutions in order to meet and exceed all expectations.


Clive Woodger

January, 2012