“Analogue still has its place” I was told by the owner of a highly acclaimed restaurant group at a recent tech centric event. The word analogue in the context of the wider conversation being had was used to refer to all offline retail. It is true enough of course, but the startup community are exposing multiple points at which technology can be injected in to the process, intended to deliver both an improved experience for the customer and efficiencies for the service vendor.
Technology continues to disrupt industries on a massive scale and will only gain momentum. Perhaps counter intuitively though, the more robust and established the sector appears, the more ripe for disruption it has a tendency to be. The industry relaxes, being propped up by the security of its established, lengthy heritage. This results in large pockets of an indifferent take on innovation, causing organisational, industry wide inertia. And in turn, this leads to vulnerability against, or opportunity for disruption from new movers entering the market, depending on your perspective.
Designers and design agencies are well placed to help businesses to innovate, creating and delivering new product and process, by presenting a string to their bow that in most cases is under exposed. Designers as a breed are blessed with the key attributes needed to drive organisational change. Russell Reynolds Associates identifies a lack of recognition of bureaucracy; a willingness to challenge convention; a desire to test limits; and an ability to empathise, as characteristics of a suitable candidate to lead change. Not exclusive to the profession, but these are traits I closely associate with that of a designer. Combined with knowledge of the ideation process to unearth the insight, creatives and creative teams at all sizes are well-geared to help their clients with more than just a logo.
This concept obviously isn't a new one. The best example is IDEO who have been applying their ‘Design Thinking’ for 25 years, and working with likeminded clients who understand the necessity for constant innovation, but lack the time, infrastructure or know how to implement. The effective and measurable impact of design has long been advocated by the Design Business Association and its members, applying a scale of value or return on investment to design output, with innovative thinking surely being a large part of the criteria needed to achieve this.
At a 2016 international design conference, a presentation was given by the brilliant DixonBaxi, in which they talked through in fascinating detail, their recent rebranding project for Eurosport. Briefed to improve Eurosport’s relevance to its market, and also to broaden the existing audience, DixonBaxi created a beautiful visual identity, collaborating with the cream of the design industry to produce cinematic idents with powerful sound design, as well as a suite of merchandise and corporate stationery, all stemming from clear, coherent concepts and refreshed organisational values - neatly wrapped up in a logical brand architecture so it all made perfect sense. Genuinely, a stunning job.
It’s because their job was so comprehensively brilliant, that I wish it had gone further.
Imagine if this team was encouraged to consider a wider assignment. I believe the intelligence and style they expertly deliver could penetrate deeper. They talk on their website of a future-proofed identity. They observe the project is “more than a rebrand exercise”. But for me it could go deeper, and broader, to really accomplish change.
I don’t know how much was up for the taking, from set-design to presenter style to programme scheduling. The visual presentation of the network is truly up there with the best, but the experience of the content, of actually watching Eurosport, still feels flat, irrelevant and narrow - and that feels far from future-proofed. On and offline.
At a more modest design event, a senior designer from a top North East design firm spoke with passion to the audience about identifying value within the design process - to solve the real problems facing businesses in a better way. The example provided, was that of a window cleaner approaching the agency, to requesta website, the response was that the agency wouldn’t not have the estimates and specification drawn up to get to work - but rather that they would consider that alternative deliverables, perhaps a more localised door-drop, might be a much more cost effective way for the window cleaner to achieve their objectives. It is my view this can go further, and the design review can encompass deeper, strategic, operational recommendations to help their business compete and grow.
For example - identifying the real challenges might lead to a white-label tech solution to manage quotations and offering convenient payment methods. Perhaps technology can provide a solution for recruiting new 'cleaners', allocating jobs to the team, circulating best practice and equipment management. These innovative recommendations are not alien to the design process and should be a central consideration of it. I believe this adds another dimension to a designer and agency of all sizes and formats, and shouldn't be the preserve of behemoth agencies in California and London. Once the smaller independent agency has one or two projects under their belt they can start to reposition themselves in this way. I believe client expectations would quickly evolve, and with it, a beautiful identity, will be reinforced by the right kind of innovation to keep their business meaningful, progressive and competitive.
Continuous innovation within corporations is critical. Independent design agencies can position themselves to deliver fruitful innovation as a core part of their services with little transformation of their current offering. As for the brilliant restauranteur championing the analogue experience, it may also be worth a glance at the graphic below to illustrate the impact of design and technology on a single dining experience. Whilst digitisation doesn't suit every restaurant, and statistics suggest that a large number of the logos within this graphic will disappear, there will be a lot that survive and more will evolve. So rather than tech startups plugging holes with technology wherever they see one, smart designers and agencies should identify technology as a core part of the solution to a design problem, and deliver brands that embrace the future.