Harder, better, faster, stronger

In 1990, I was still in school and recovering from Féile ’90.

Desktop publishing had started to take hold and was to revolutionise, democratise (some might even say homogenise) and forever change the design industry. Apple, now the biggest company in the world, was struggling to exist with the design industry as it’s only real customer. To make some people feel very old, System 7 was released in 1991. In 1990 the internet was virtually unknown and the closest thing we had in Ireland were imported Argos and Damart catalogues. Design was concerned with the print world. Many designers made their living from managing print rather than design. Repro house, The Type Bureau, threw the biggest industry design party in town. Design agencies were broad in their services offered and the industries they served. Specialised branding, packaging, POS, web (then digital), FMCG and B2B disciplines began to emerge, although Irish agencies were often still one-stop shops.

Much has changed, but a lot has stayed the same and in the opinion of some, regressed. To get an idea of how Irish design has moved on over the last quarter century, I asked a number of leading creatives and agency owners old enough to remember what they think has changed, and what’s been for the good. The rise of digital and the range of channels available remains a challenge for the design world. Many would argue that the web design agencies were more into development than creative. Mary Doherty of Red Dog says the constant, almost weekly, arrival of new digital channels – including mobile – is a challenge.

Gerry Whelan from Brandcentral agrees that although challenging, it means more opportunities and more work for designers looking at all of a client’s channels whereas before, it was about designing for single channels. Go back 25 years and there was no time and yet despite all the developments in technology, there is still no time.

Former Design Business Ireland chairman Alan Howard says there is not even time for the “overnight test” anymore.

Siobhan Griffin of Clickworks believes there’s and over-reliance on stock imagery. A government department recently sourced their logo online for $50. To think, 25 years ago, the job of selecting an image, buying it, scanning it, and getting it print-ready took over a week, now it can take 10 minutes.

It’s not just about the increasing complexity but it is the “speed of change” which seems to be accelerating. But not all change is bad. Andrew Bradley of Bradley Brand & Design feels there is now a better focus on getting the design brief correct from the start and not jumping into the process immediately. As a result, the standard of creativity is higher as both clients and designers strive to differentiate more.

Good clients have an understanding and appreciation of design beyond return on investment (ROI), particularly with websites. Clients are more aware of what is happening internationally than before. It means Irish designers must raise their game, but it is also easier for Irish agencies to do international work – sadly, few do.

A quarter a century ago, a client went to a design agency for design. One in three designers work in – house and Bradley expects it to rise to one in two. Ad agencies, PR firms, media agencies, print management companies and digital agencies all offer design as a core service. So too are management consultants and big tech companies. The likes of IBM, McKinsey, Ericsson, Accenture and Deloitte are recruiting top talent from the industry. They see how design is core to the customer experience and something that is rightfully taking its place at boardroom level. Apple is probably the world’s most famous design – led company and clear proof of its commercial value. Since Marketing.ie was first published, design has become more competitive, faster, and more complex. But it is finally starting to become a core part of business – before, it was merely a vanity exercise for some. To continue on the right path, designers must understand a client’s business and that’s not just down to branding.

So the identity guidelines and annual reports may not be the lifeblood of a design agency anymore but the arrival of more design-focused companies and the range of digital channels is good news for the next 25 years. Finally, a somewhat nostalgic mention and farewell to scalpels (and A&E runs), spray mount, ZIP disks, Quark Xpress, fag breaks while files saved and illegible faxed proofs.

Special thanks to Mary Doherty, Red Dog; Gerry Whelan, Brandcentral; Andrew Bradley, Bradley Brand & Design and Siobhan Griffin and Alan Howard from Clickworks, along with countless others whose brains were picked in passing.

This article was published in the 25th anniversary of Marketing.ie Magazine – September 2015.