Greater identity

Welcome to the first Design Brief column in magazine. I feel a little bit like the independent TD entering the Dail for the first time, up against the might of the advertising, media and PR parties who have dominated this publication for along time. But things are about to change, so here is the revolutionary design manifesto.

In the coming months, I will do my best to hi-light the good, the bad and the mediocre of the design world, both homegrown and from further afield. I will endeavor to a wide range of design interests: packaging design, UI design, UX design, identity design, service design and in–store design, to name but a few.

I will talk in plain English, so no mention of leading, pixels, ratios or Pantones. I will give you opinions – both my own and, to keep a balance of course, those of others. Good design deserves to have its say and be seen as a viable, interesting, exciting, effective and vital part of marketing communications.

Where are we now?
The traditional design world has become commoditised. There are no barriers to entry, professionally or financially. The call for certification has raised its head in the UK again. Designers are being forced lower and lower on hourly rates with some even offering fixed prices for a piece of string of indeterminable length.

Who’s to blame?
Well, we can start with business reality shows like The Apprentice where a “designer” moves elements around a screen as directed by a team of budding entrepreneurs, more of a machine operator than a designer. The Design Business Association website has some good posts about this. Then there’s colleges, for not equipping designers for commercial realities of the marketing services business.

But fundamentally, the blame lies with us, the designers. We don’t articulate our value well enough. Would Apple have the same bite without his lordship, Jonathan Ive? We form thousands of tiny companies that just can’t say no to a big client’s will. We forget the commercial part of being a commercial artist. Some 85 per cent of design awards at Cannes this year were won by agencies, not design agencies. So not only do we get the commercial bit wrong, but the artist part too. But there is hope.

Measuring effectiveness
How can we measure design effectively? Digital, for one. It allows us to test our design work and measure instantly. Good design delivers ROI for clients and design agencies. The big budget annual reports and identity guideline bibles that were the bread, butter and jam of the industry for years are now no more.

Smart design agencies that link great design and effectiveness will succeed. And digital lets us do this with all its analytics and ability to easily A/B test. And more good news – aside from digital, design is undergoing a renaissance in Ireland at the moment. Events like Offset are placing Dublin and Ireland on the international stage. We have our own Design Week which ran nationwide this month.

Next year is officially the year of Irish design, aka Irish Design 2015, its arrival on the back of Pivot Dublin’s bid for World Design Capital 2014. Organised by the Design and Crafts Council Ireland, Irish Design 2015 aims to sustain and grow employment opportunities, sales and export potential for the Irish design sector, by encouraging investment in design as a key component of competitiveness and innovation. A lofty but commendable ambition. ICAD(Institute of Creative Advertising and Design) is pushing the C in creativity, encouraging agencies to open their doors to the industry. ICAD is spelled with a capital A and small d, but we are hoping that improves with time.

The Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI) design awards also happen in November. These organisations and events are helping to widen the profile of our industry. They’re putting us on the radar and helping us become accountable, both to others and ourselves.

All in all, it’s time to stand up for design. To show how it really can help achieve business goals and help a campaign or a project become the best, most effective campaign it can be. It’s not just about pretty colours and centered logos. It is deeper and more intricate than that. Do I have your interest now?

This article was first published in Magazine’s Design Brief column in November 2014.