"The best work in 2003 has been a result of relationships built up over time," says Dawton. "Clients need to make the most of the design industry's talent of understanding how business links to consumers, how people think and why they buy."
Peggy Connor, head of design and strategic consultancy at the AAR, agrees: "Clients today are focusing on loyalty and long-term relationships, not short-term fireworks."
In a year clouded by war and fears of terrorism, frivolity in design was scarce. But the cautious atmosphere has had its benefits, as clients became more aware of the importance of design to the bottom line.
"There is a realisation that brand design can be at the heart of the business strategy," says John Mathers, managing director of branding and design agency Enterprise IG, and president of the DBA.
Effectiveness is something Elmwood Design showed in the repackaging of Manor Born sausages. The revamp emphasised the family-run nature of the business and led to a 57% rise in monthly turnover. This was achieved with no other communication or price change.
Another triumph of effectiveness came from last year's Marketing Design Agency of the Year, Williams Murray Hamm, with its in-store and packaging work for Here, the organic food retailer. This helped to increase individual customer spending at Here from £5 to £21. "It is a prime example of design having a profound impact on a small business," says Dawton.
WMH had a notable year, picking up accolades in Marketing's Brand Design Awards for work on the V&A shop, and on Clipper Teas, which took visual inspiration from magazines such as National Geographic, eschewing traditional conventions in the premium tea sector.
Lewis Moberly had a strong year too, with a Marketing Brand Design award for its work on a corporate identity for advertising charity NABS and a commendation for its Piz Buin Self Tan packaging design.
Consistently interesting package design ensured Jones Knowles Ritchie once again stood out from the crowd, with a Marketing Brand Design award for the Molton Brown Men's range and its cube-shaped packaging for Hula Hoops Shoks.
On the whole, FMCG packaging has not been setting the design world alight in 2003. More interesting have been retail experience and corporate branding projects, such as Wolff Olins' relaunch of Abbey National as the multi-coloured Abbey.
"The past year has seen the demise of the silly name era," says Mathers.
"Abbey works because it's pared down, it's simple and it hasn't tried to reinvent itself."
Another bank to receive a makeover was NatWest, with a fresh palette courtesy of The Partners. The agency was also responsible for the recent global update of the Jaguar brand. It was asked to create a brand identity for the luxury car company, which would enhance its contemporary positioning, without conflicting with its past.
The end result prompted Mike O'Driscoll, the president of Jaguar North America, to say: "In some ways you haven't really changed anything, while in fact you have actually changed everything."
Spectacular innovation has been thin on the ground, something the AAR's Connor puts down to cash-strapped clients' reluctance to take risks. But she says the retail industry is bucking this trend by investing in long-term brand development.
"The big challenge in this area is to create a big experience that actually works," says Enterprise IG's Mathers, who holds up Niketown, the Levi's stores and Enterprise's own Audi Forum as successful examples.
This challenge was met head-on by 20/20, with retail environment designs for Orange and Oasis in the Birmingham Bullring. It also developed Boots' Work Convenience store in London, a food-led outlet for workers in a hurry.
The store is now trading at between 20% and 30% ahead of its targets.
One agency reaping the benefits of long-term partnerships is Corporate Edge. The corporate-identity specialist has been Cadbury Trebor Bassett's leading innovation consultancy for more than 20 years, which led to the agency being chosen to roll out a new identity for Cadbury-Schweppes in 2003.
Its work on loyalty brand Nectar continued in 2003, with the agency picking up a commendation at Marketing's Brand Design Awards for its work on the scheme.
Finally, love it or loathe it, you are unlikely to have missed Kino Design's London 2012 logo. The choice was mired in controversy, mainly in relation to the mass-invitation process used to select a winner, something the DBA's Dawton took issue with. "You don't send out a brief to 10,000 people and hope someone will come up with the right answer overnight."