22/07/2010 » designing out of recession
I have been here before and I know it’s going to date me but this is my fourth recession as a practicing designer. Could this one be different? Well yes, because the world moves on and hopefully we are better equipped to deal with whatever comes our way. But also because attitudes change, as has the perceived value of design to end users, retailers and suppliers alike.
The received wisdom has always been that you should increase yourR & D effort and turn to the strength of design in times of economic uncertainty. Of course in reality design should form a crucial part of a business strategy whatever the financial climate but when times get really tough, as has been the recent case then it is worth considering redoubling your efforts to develop and innovate new products and so be ready for the upturn. Indeed statistics provided by the Design Council in 2008 revealed that in a survey of companies across all sectors more than half (54%) thought that design would contribute in helping to maintain their competitiveness in the economic downturn.
Attitudes to design have changed in recent years and the British public are now much more aware of design and how it impacts on their lives through TV shows like Channel 4’s Grand Designs and Philippe Starks’ Designs for Life on BBC 2. Lifestyle aspirations are important and will influence how customers spend. The boundaries between the creative industries have become blurred; for instance I see an even stronger link between clothing fashion and home furnishing; a good example being the White Stuff whose concept stores feature vintage Scandinavian furniture and ‘domesticated’ shop fit. All you chaps out there who hate shopping think again you can learn a lot from a trip to the stores! More specifically in furniture, retailers like John Lewis are actively promoting household designer names, such as the aforementioned Stark and Sir Terence Conran as part of the furniture buying experience in their stores. And at the supply end many more companies now understand the value of design to not only offer innovation and competitive edge, but to also increase efficiencies and ultimately generate profit.
During a downturn it is all too easy to play safe and develop ‘me too’ products or worse still axe budgets for things that might be viewed as discretionary – new designs for instance. However developing weird and wonderful designs for the sake of being different can be counterproductive and in working with my clients I try to strike a balance between creativity and comerciality whilst at the same time reflecting their brand, which I think must be important to the vast majority of companies out there.
So do we have anything to be optimistic about as we emerge from recession? Well, The Times recently quoted fashion design designer Richard Nicoll in the run up to London Fashion Week as saying “pessimism is an unnecessary waste of energy” Quite right, and it’s great to see furniture retailers such as Heals champion really vibrant optimistic designs like Kay & Stemmer’s ‘Flow’ sofa. (PIC) It is actually very difficult to design anything really without a spirit of optimism. So implement that project you’ve been thinking about, commission a designer, better still get a designer on your board. At least you will have a constant source of optimism!