Friday, 7 December 2007

specialists in design

Over the years there has been the idea that big is better and what could be better than somewhere where you can get everything? Look at the huge out of town supermarkets that have devastated the small town retail outlets. Everything is under one roof and so there is no reason to go anywhere else. Right?

The design scene up until twenty years ago has been set upon a similar notion where big is beautiful, and with the idea that companies want to come to designers to deal with all their design problems. In the last twenty years, however, the design industry has evolved hugely. It has established product, communication and interior design sectors which are joined with other design fields such as service design, business strategies design, and experience design, to name but a few.

Designers seem now to becoming overwhelmed by the sheer diversity of what they should be able to do. To this end, design companies are now seeing a new value in resurrecting the idea of a specialism within their field. Over the last two years the Design Council and Creative Cultural Skills have been working with over 4,000 designers to create a ‘UK Design Industry Skills Development Plan’ under the name of the Design Skills Advisory Panel. The report is an in-depth plan of how the design sector can carry on it’s success within the British economy; by looking at the present situation in industry and education, and also suggesting ways of improving the current situation.

The report has already made quite an impact within the design scene. Hopefully the education sector will take on the suggestions of the report so we can maintain our industry as being the largest design sector in Europe, with an annual turnover in excess of £11.6bn. One question this report seems to bring about is if all of these new types of design sectors are opening up is it possible for design agencies to really do everything under one roof? For many, the answer is a resounding no. Design Agencies are realising the advantages of specialising in certain aspects of design and forming strong alliances with other like-minded companies. If a large job does come up they can then call upon their collaborators.

This has been used more and more over the past decade or so. One of the most recent examples of this type of approach is the re-branding of S4C by Proud Creative. Proud used a number of collaborators for the S4C brand. Helping with the consultancy they turned to onedotzero. For production (of some of the projects) they worked with a collective called Rare. For the initial idents for S4C they worked with award winning Director Simon Ratigan, and more recently with Minivegas. Other collaborators on the projects included Freefarm, The Acid Casuals, Marc Ortmans, Folk Design, Rushes, John Hill, Ariane Geil and Lineto. While it could be said that this type of collaboration has been happening for years in the design industry, it seems now that design agencies are being a lot more open about the fact that they are collaborating. Rather than the traditional view of seeing it as a weakness having to get someone in to do something they cannot, agencies are now seeing that being a specialist is a strength and not a weakness, and rather than clients getting mediocrity across the board they are now getting the cream from all the fields. One question that does come to mind is the very reason why agencies previously kept their collaborations under wraps.

This was so they could put a mark up on that particular part of the job, just like many still do today with print work. While one can understand a general project management fee being added onto the companies quotation it does seem to now be almost a no-no to add a mark up on top of that. The reason being is that the client knows who the agency is working alongside as it has been an open process from the start, and so they could quite easily go direct to that agency. So how do collaborations counter this idea? Perhaps by the very name collaboration or collective, by being part of strong collectives or collaborations. Working with multiple companies has many more advantages over using just a single company, in the same way as in the natural world strength is achieved in numbers. If there are numerous companies joined together mutual trust can be gained which potentially can create a larger catchment area for each individual company involved in that collective. So if a company specialises in branding but is approached by someone who wants a website they will be able to point them towards their website agency within the collective.

There is no doubt that this type of working has been used before, but now with the latest technology people don’t have to even be local to each other. Sometimes people don’t even need to be in the same country. The traditional designers’ friend -- the macintosh computer - is leading the way in making this possible. With the integration of ichat and ivideo allowing people to chat via video, and also being able to share documents between .mac accounts which allows all involved access to the project, which can then be downloaded onto a video iPod or through their WiFi MacBook Pro.

All of these new advancements have made this type of work easier, and it seems as technology advances then we can imagine that the way of communicating will become more and more sophisticated, perhaps as sophisticated as a face to face meeting can be. For now, we are very much at the new beginning of this way of working, and time will tell whether it becomes the norm. However, it does seem that to be a specialist is the new holy grail for design.

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