Everyone buys into the idea of teams and working in partnership. A team
can make things happen more quickly, innovative solutions can be
stimulated and effort co-ordinated. Two or more heads are better than
one and many hands make light work. Who is kidding who here? No one in
the design industry is really working in partnership with their clients.
Not according to the Oxford Dictionary definition: ‘Partner. A person
who shares or takes part with another or other, especially in a business
firm with shared risks and profits.’ Where’s the risk? (Not to mention
Many clients believe a good brief means delivering lots of facts and
figures to their design agency and walking away satisfied that they have
fulfilled their part of the bargain. Designers are encouraging this
‘dump it and see’ approach by telling clients they will take care of
everything, that the client needn’t worry about it, that it will all be
So grateful are they for the business and so frightened of it going to a
competitor, most design companies wouldn’t dream of ruffling a client’s
feathers by questioning the motivation behind a re-design or challenging
the strategy for a new brand.
The brief is so important and yet it is given very little consideration
by client and designer alike, whereas we should be working together to
devise a new approach to the creative design brief.
The inevitable result of this approach? The pastiche kit of parts; that
jumble of category language on a pack which feels comfortable and is
widely accepted (including performing well in consumer research, because
consumers like what they know) but which is hardly going to exceed
customer expectations, which certainly does not qualify as a
revolutionary solution and makes bugger all difference in the long run.
Design companies must learn to expect more from clients, rather than
accept their briefs with blind devotion. We must have the confidence in
our experience and abilities to question and probe briefs, including
refusing to do a piece of work which we feel is strategically wrong for
a brand. Only when clients realise that effective design means plunging
into the core of the brand and probing its meaning - not dipping a toe
into cosmetic prettifying - will we be able to innovate rather than
administrate, originate rather than imitate.
How? We all have a brain and that brain has two sides: the creative and
logical. True partnership means clients and design agencies supporting
each other to use whole brain thinking.
The challenge must take place before the brief is finalised. Designers
must develop a process to enable everyone, both clients and designers,
to think big from the outset and encourage the use of the creative and
inspirational right half of the brain as well as the logical left side,
which ‘suits’ rely on.
Let’s be honest, design is a risky business. It takes a brave client and
a brave design agency to take those risks - together.
Amanda Connolly, managing director, Coley Porter Bell