Connecting design to strategy, and the value of ‘design enculturation’
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The DBA is calling for the Treasury to guarantee the future of R&D tax credits as well as expand their scope to support a design economy and business environment that will allow the United Kingdom to ‘own the global language of innovation’.
The percentage of pupils entering at least one arts subject has fallen by 1.7 percentage points to just 47.9% of pupils in state-funded schools in 2016. This is on top of an overall decline of 8% in the uptake of arts subjects at GCSE and shows that the DfE’s English Baccalaureate (EBacc) proposals are continuing to have a negative impact on the uptake of creative, artistic and technical subjects in schools.
The lobbying body Bacc For The Future are asking people to keep writing to their local MPs to encourage them to ask the DfE to abandon its plans for the EBacc and review alternative Baccalaureate options that include valuable creative, artistic and technical subjects. They have a template letter prepared here which you can personalise and send on.
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If that sounds a little nerve wracking for some, then that actually could be a good thing. Neuroscientist Dr David Rock believes that ‘a little fear is the best condition for learning’ and Greenwich based agency, Cog Design has found with its ‘knowledge sharing initiative’, that “Often the people who are most nervous about presenting are the ones who feel the most benefit,” according to Founder Michael Smith.
Cog set up their initiative (where team members share their training experiences), for all sorts of reasons, but the key ones were, says Michael, because “it’s great experience for each of us to practice presenting stuff in a safe and non-threatening environment (rather than jumping straight into a boardroom of clients). Whoever is talking will be the ‘expert in the room’, which gives a great position of confidence to even the most nervous public speaker. It’s also expensive (in time more than money) for us to attend things that take us away from billable work, so we want to get the most out of that investment.”
Dr. David Rock describes learning that fits with the way our brain operates as “facilitating insights, in social situations that matter, over time”. He believes that ‘insights are more likely to be generated when we have time to reflect on content delivered with sufficient spacing to allow our pre-frontal cortex time to process information’* – so in other words, building in reflection time is a good thing; something Cog also believe is a benefit. “Everyone learns in different ways – some people find it invaluable to have the opportunity to recap and get their thoughts in order; that definitely helps those people to ‘own’ that knowledge and put it into practice,” he says.
“Asking someone to share their learning is a great way to creatively test them on the experience,” says Emily, “this not only passes on knowledge, but also helps both the individual and the organisation really consider and understand how the learning can be valuable from an individual perspective as well as for the wider business.”
Cog’s philosophy is to try to engender a culture of sharing that runs through everything they do, but is especially true of events and training they’ve invested in. They ask anyone who has been on a course, attended a conference, or training event, to tell the rest of the team about it.
“It’s not compulsory but we encourage people to give a presentation about their experience,” says Michael. That can be a review of the event, a summary of the highlights, or a full-on recreation of the whole thing. Usually it sits somewhere between those.
“There’s no set way of doing it – sometimes we save them up for our annual ‘discussion day’, when the whole team are gathered and we are focused on learning and talking, or we might all get together one lunchtime, or extend our weekly staff meeting to include a quick presentation,” he adds.
Michael believes the business has benefitted from a more knowledgeable and more confident team, whilst also building an impressive library of PDFs and presentations that everyone can refer back to. “The difference in confidence levels is tangible and lovely to see,” he says.
Developing your team can deliver multiple, wide-ranging benefits across your business. By actively embedding new learning into practice you’ll maximise your training investment whilst positively impacting on your team.
* Trisha Carter, blogging at the AHRI Convention / Neuroscience – Rethinking everything
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The creative sector is a huge asset to the country both economically and culturally – it consistently outperforms the rest of the economy (design as a sector is one of the fastest growing of all the creative industries) and it is central to the reputation and perception of the UK overseas. Without young people taking up creative subjects in the first place, the opportunity to develop the brightest and most imaginative minds will be lost. And what of those that go onto higher education – will it prepare them fully for a career in design?
“A lot more collaboration between students and the UK’s design firms would be helpful – and a lot more serious synergy between them,” said Wolff. “There’s more synergy with university science departments and enterprise than between design education and enterprise. That seems a shame.
Service design consultant Joel Bailey believes that investing in new forms of design for the future is fundamental for a thriving industry. “Service design is only about 15 years old, but it has evolved to meet the needs of a service economy of empowered customers, in a digital era,” he said. “The UK is a recognised leader in the field of service design, but not for long unless we invest in the sector and make the most of this opportunity.”
Although service designers are in demand, there simply aren’t enough of them. “The amount of service designers being trained is woefully inadequate,” added Bailey. Investment to ensure our design courses continue to deliver world-class talent will be pivotal to delivering against Hancock’s message that “the creative industries will be absolutely central to our post-Brexit future.” The RCA’s and Glasgow’s Design Innovation and Service Design courses are leading the field in service design education, but the quality of homegrown design talent is ever more important in light of Brexit if we are to remain competitive as an industry and as a nation.
According to Bailey, the service design sector in the UK is a prime example of an area that currently relies on overseas talent. “Many have trained at well-known and leading design schools abroad, but are coming here because this is where the money is being spent on big service design projects,” he said. “If we turn off that supply of talent, without nurturing homegrown talent, those projects will struggle to deliver, and those organisations will be uncompetitive as a result,” he added. “Most students don’t even know about service design as a possible career path. Further investment and awareness are absolutely key.”
Something positive the EU Referendum result has done is to stir up the industry – to collectively focus on the future beyond products and projects. We have to identify what we stand to lose, and focus on how we can maintain and grow the industry’s prosperity and reputation well into the future, whatever the obstacles. Initiatives like Dezeen’s ‘Brexit Design Manifesto’ – which is supported by the DBA and lays out very clearly how the government must support, invest in and prioritise design, design education and talent in order to ensure the sector continues to wield such a positive impact – are so important in crystalising focus, especially when it comes to government strategy at this unique time in our history.
“We are trained to be problem solvers, creative thinkers and communicators,” said House, “surely our attitude as an industry could be a catalyst to ensure that not only our industry thrives but becomes a champion of openness and ideas for the global community.” Answering challenging questions is something our industry is perfectly placed to do; it’s the nature of design thinking after all. If the industry works together to take firm control of its future – to lobby for it, fight for it, to make it a priority in the eyes of government – then the future will be in good hands.
To be successful however, it does all have to stem out of a good content marketing strategy that is well thought through and implemented in a considered manner. But says Joe, once that is in place then “a simple style guide, some clear content pillars and a bit of editorial oversight is all your colleagues need to get going.”
There are, of course, some agencies which sell their ability to help clients with their own content marketing. In cases like this it is imperative that writers are employed – so it makes sense for them to also be utilised in the promotion of the agency. DBA member ThinkBDA is a Buckingham based creative agency offering design and marketing services. These services include helping clients with their content. ThinkBDA managing director David Knowles says, “Content writing is a skill – it is about crafting words in such a way as to draw people into a subject. Having an in-house content person gives flexibility allowing us to be more reactive when faced with creative client challenges.” Although David concedes, “Just because someone doesn’t have ‘writer’ in their job title doesn’t mean they can’t produce content. Our whole team can contribute in what is often a team effort.”
First up, ask yourself (and your agency as a whole) “Why do we want to produce content? What image are we trying to portray?”
If what you are talking about has no bearing on:
then stop right there. You are wasting your time. Similarly a tweet saying “We offer great design at competitive prices” is not going to get a potential client clicking through.
If you find yourself spending all your time writing about 1060’s Japanese Manga, but are unable to link it to your client base then I suggest you carry on doing this – within the confines of your own personal blog far removed from your business! Content should be audience relevant and you need to find the issues that affect both you as a business and your clients – preferably at the same time. They are pretty broad – customer engagement, client relationships, return on investment. Then delve into the more sector specific issues depending on your client base.
To get started find a trusted source that deals with issues affecting you and use them for inspiration. Paul Alderson of DBA member Wonderstuff in Newcastle says, “We often look at the DBA for inspiration – up and coming events on their website, their ezine – then we ask ourselves ‘What is our opinion on that subject?’”
“Our staff are not writers – but they are communicators. The more they write the better they get and it equips them to form their own opinions, something we have always encouraged.”
Paul continues, “Once you have a clear idea of who you are targeting and what values you want to align yourselves with it becomes easy. By putting your beliefs out there you give clients a reason to choose you, an agency that does great work, but also has the same outlook as the client.”
To broaden the content output from your agency you need to trust your staff to illustrate their expertise, opinions and passion. But as Paul says, you need a clear strategy in place – one that has been developed in conjunction with your positioning and new business plans. This takes time and consideration, but can produce fantastic rewards for an agency looking to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace.
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The DBA’s membership of the Creative Industries Federation (CIF) places the design industry shoulder to shoulder with other creative and cultural sectors. This will ensure a strong and united voice across the creative industries will be heard by Government at this critical time.
Referendum Response Meetings hosted by CIF have been held nationwide this month and DBA representatives from both the management team and from our membership have been attending these events, to ensure the design industry perspective is well represented. Survey responses, alongside the issues tabled at these meetings, will feed into the development of a Brexit Action Plan and into meetings taking place in August to define further activity, on which we will keep you posted.
Highly productive meetings have also been held with APDIG – the body that provides a forum for open debate between parliament and the UK’s design and innovation communities – to establish how we can most effectively work together over coming months and years to represent the interests of the design industry to Government, as the UK negotiates its exit from the EU.
In the meantime, if you or someone on your team would like to be more involved with the advocacy work the DBA is convening over the coming months – this could involve representing the DBA at working groups or meetings, or simply being on hand for opinion and views – then please email email@example.com. We’d welcome your support.