Main Content

The trouble with being reactive

I’ve worked with designers in different ways for over 30 years – as a client, in agencies and as a design agency owner. As a consultant, mentor and coach to designers since 2002, it soon became clear that designers were quite often found somewhat stuck in conventional and quite ‘transactional’ client-agency relationships – invariably sitting back waiting for client-initiated projects to be handed out or tender invitations to land and react to.

This reactive behavior would often lead to unsatisfactory project experiences for designers with clients (and vice-versa) and general discontent: ill-fitting client relationships, unrealistic project budgets and/or timescales, clients lacking ‘ambition’ in projects, differing strategic or creative ideas and opinions, and more. Things needed to change.

The opportunity with being proactive

My thoughts around this time seemed logical – that if designers had more clarity about themselves and their purpose, and they worked more proactively, they could elevate their standing in the relationship and, in doing so, potentially enhance their work-lives.

Designers are naturally creative and curious – their skillset is perfectly suited to working proactively. For me, it made sense that designers invest more time to applying their natural skills to self-initiate research and idea development. So, from around 2005 I set about encouraging design firms to embrace and integrate a more proactive way of working into their behaviours and activities.

What is Proactive Working?

Proactive Working is designers taking more control over their destiny and making things happen more on their terms. It’s self-initiating research to inform, shape and own ideas and intellectual property. It’s proactively reaching out to and instigating conversations with selected clients (existing and new) that designers are potentially well suited to working with. It’s ‘partnering’ in the true sense of the word – in a co-venturing commercial context. It’s putting the designer more in the driving seat. It’s being less client-led. It’s leading and hunting, and not just being conveniently fed. It’s elevating the designer in the agency-client relationship by building perceived value through your actions.

Proactive Working is shaping your future, not allowing others to shape it for you. 

Working proactively is a mindset and a behaviour that can be effective and rewarding, but it takes courage, and won’t be for everyone. The challenge for designers with establishing and running a programme that explores the potential of Proactive Working is largely the commitment to and recognising the need for; discipline, open-mindedness, perseverance, determination and not making premature judgements about whether it works or not.

As for the rewards, well, they can be transformational. 
 
The benefits

By working more proactively, designers can enhance their work-lives in many ways. It’s an uplifting and dynamic experience to be the driver of a new initiative. The new skills, knowledge, confidence that can be acquired. The clarity of purpose, sense of freedom and controlling your own destiny is exciting.

Proactive working done well can be a powerful and purposeful new business driver. A great idea can propel a design business past the gatekeepers and typical barriers. The tables can be dramatically turned. Suddenly, the designer can hold the purse strings and choose which client they want to do business with, not the other way around. The potential rewards that can be derived from embedding this way of working – either in part alongside your more conventional business development activities, or as the standalone activity – are plain to see.

The example

In 2010, I found myself working with a small design firm to help them explore how they might develop their business and new opportunities. As part of this, and we took ourselves on a ‘journey of proactivity’. The results were fascinating. A big idea took shape and within just a few months we had secured the interest of a significant new client in a co-venture proposal, and my client had secured its place on their agency roster. The journey, experience and insights we gained are captured in this blog post.

How the land lies today

Armed with this uplifting example of how effective proactive working can be, the endeavor to encourage more design firms to embrace and integrate a more proactive way of working into their behaviours and activities would seem worthwhile and likely to click. 

What I experienced, for the most part, was a reluctance to trial this approach, and so its potential was rarely tapped and explored. Six years on from this experience, ways of working may have changed and some design firms I’ve worked with recently have been distinctly proactive by nature, but I ask these questions to hopefully shed more light on how the land lies today:

  • To what extent has the typical mindset and behavioural characteristics of many designers changed? Outside of fee-paying day-to-day client projects, are many design firms still working reactively?
  • How much time, effort and money does working conventionally – in the pursuit of new business tenders, pitches and growth – cost agencies today? What is the typical conversion rate and return?
  • Are alternative ways of working given the time and money they need to succeed?

Getting proactive

The inspirational words of Seth Godin are worth a mention – he says, firms need to avoid playing it ‘safe’, think differently and be less risk-averse. These are qualities that drive Proactive Working to transform work-life experiences. 

Clearly this is challenging for even the bravest among us. Intrinsically linked to the act of ‘proactive exploration’ can (for some) be a significant change of mindset and behaviour. Embracing a complete change or shift in how you try to win new business can be uncomfortable, unsettling, even scary. So how can designers set about embracing change? A starting point might be to ask yourself;

  • how accepting and comfortable do you feel with the familiar and typical client/agency dynamic of ‘client holding the purse strings’?
  • And is the uncertainty in the conventional tender/pitch process – not knowing whether your firm will be ‘the chosen one’ – really the best way to explore new opportunities going forward?

Objectively reviewing your current business development activities, outputs and behaviours is a logical next step. Who this applies to includes those that may be enjoying a margin of success with their outbound activities – be warned, complacency is the silent killer!

Are you Working Proactively?

Designers that strive to be more proactive, and less reliant on ‘client-led’ initiatives and project commissions, can open doors to more opportunities for leadership in their market sectors. And pave the way for building reputation!

After all, the client-agency relationship benefits when both sides put into it. Clients look to designers for inspiration, in fact they expect them (at times) to take the lead with fresh ideas for discussion and fuel the relationship more. But how often is this happening today?

In this dynamic, exciting, uplifting way of exploring new opportunities, imagine how clients could (in time) find themselves making more of the running to ensure they are on your shortlist to see and hear your reflections, ideas and visions, and to be your chosen partner. 

I’m not saying you can win all your new business by working in this way, but if designers mix up their approach, think differently and take the initiative more they’re likely to see big results. Working proactively can transform day-to-day work-life experiences, raise external perceptions and profile, and it can elevate designers in agency-client relationships. 

 

dreamstime_m_59967210Better ways to win new business | Thursday 12 October

At this half-day training workshop you’ll find out how to select the right new business methods for different types of prospects, and how to identify what prospects are really looking for when you meet them.

Previous attendees  have said: ‘A very informative, easy to understand process with a lot of tangible tips and processes to take away.’ Holly Baxter, Account Director, Haygarth.

Read more and book.

Further reading 

The What Clients Think report 2017 is a fascinating snapshot of the client viewpoint and provides important pointers for how agencies can strengthen their client relationships. Here, the DBA’s CEO Deborah Dawton takes a deeper look at some of the issues behind the results. Read more 

Proactive Working – Simon Teer outlines seven tips for proactive working. Read more 

About: Simon Teer

Simon is a Consultant, Mentor and Coach at Teer. 

Teer is a strategic consultancy that coaches and mentors emerging and established design firms that typically specialise in products, furniture, graphics and interiors.

E: simon@simonteer.com

Image credits: © Dennis Van Duren Dreamstime.com

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Client world

88% OF CLIENTS EXPECT THE BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT TO BE TOUGHER THIS YEAR THAN LAST YEAR

88% OF CLIENTS STATED THAT THEY ARE ‘UNDER SOME PRESSURE’ TO REDUCE AGENCY COSTS

Deborah says: “It’s no surprise that clients are under pressure to reduce agency costs given that they’re under pressure to reduce all costs. We’ve seen a global slowdown that has led to low growth and consequently low returns. And when that happens, every area of a business comes under the spotlight, not just agency fees. If you’re in this position as an agency, then it’s more important than ever to demonstrate the tangible value you add. So if you’re not in the habit of hanging around long enough to measure the impact of your work, I would suggest that your days are numbered. There’s been an explosion in the desire to measure and evaluate, and a creative positioning alone is no longer enough. Brands need great creativity and design effectiveness.”

Winning clients

86% OF CLIENTS PERCEIVE THE CREATIVE STANDARDS OF UK DESIGN AGENCIES TO BE ‘VERY HIGH’

68% OF CLIENTS WOULD NOT EXPECT TO PAY FOR A CREATIVE PITCH

Deborah says: “The UK has the largest design sector in Europe and is second only to North America globally, and what Up to the Light’s report reinforces again this year is that the quality of what clients get from UK agencies is extremely high. This puts us in an enviable position. Design is understood to be a very important contributor to brand success and the DBA’s Design Effectiveness Awards prove that. So it bowls me over that we’re still facing the issue of a sector whose overwhelming instinct is to give work away for free, to be in the running for a brand’s patronage. Designers have a responsibility to fully diagnose the situation they are faced with and prescribe the right solution in their expert opinion and that cannot happen without considered thought, and a good working relationship based on mutual respect. 68% of clients would not expect to pay for a creative pitch and it’s our job to explain why that could be their undoing. Let’s celebrate the 22% that demonstrate best practice in their selection process, and probably have the business results to show for it.”

Retaining and growing clients

72% OF CLIENTS SEE THEIR DESIGN AGENCY AS A ‘PARTNER’ RATHER THAN A SUPPLIER

87% OF CLIENTS WHO HAD A WEAKER OR MORE VULNERABLE RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR DESIGN AGENCY CITED CLIENT SERVICE ISSUES AS THE MAIN REASON

Deborah says: “Moving from being seen as a supplier to a partner is the Holy Grail for any agency. Client services teams if you have them, or your designers, have to understand that simply doing a great creative job isn’t enough. It won’t paste over the cracks in a relationship that is perceived by the client to have gone off the boil. Maintaining our keenness and commitment to our clients is our responsibility, and a mark of the respect that we have for them and their brands. It’s perhaps no surprise therefore that client servicing and project management are the two areas that the DBA does most of its training in.”

Head to Up to the Light’s website to download and read the full report here: http://www.uptothelight.co.uk/news

Further reading – Designers: are you working proactively? 

For years, the typical prevalent behaviour of many designers towards client relationships has been ‘reactive’ and not ‘proactive’. But, working proactively can transform work-life experiences for the better, and put designers more in the driving seat. Read more

Image credits: © Bbbar | Dreamstime.com

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What we are looking for

APDIG and the DBA want your views:

  • You tell us that you’re struggling to recruit the right talent for your business. What skills shortages do you have or expect to have? And what do you think has caused the shortage?
  • Does geography play a part and can we link skills needs of the industry to skills provision by educational institutions in local areas? Or do we need a radical rethink? How would you go about developing your future workforce?
  • The Government is offering the Creative Industries (CI) a Sector Deal. The design industry sits within this CI industry grouping but there isn’t a predetermined recipe for a Sector Deal as it’s not been done before. Given that the Government’s emphasis throughout the Green Paper is productivity and growth, what ideas do you have for driving growth in a) your business and our sector of industry (if that’s what you want); b) in your clients’ businesses; and c) more generally across the UK?
  • The Industrial Strategy also aims to cultivate world-leading sectors. The Creative Industries is generally thought of as a core strength of the UK so how might we protect our world-standing, how might we showcase it to the world and how do we grow it?
  • The design industry in the UK does a lot of work overseas. What could we be doing to enable you to grow your overseas markets?
  • How would you go about embedding design at the heart of all British businesses to help them grow or to help them export their products or services overseas?
  • We need to be bold in our ask of Government, so no idea is too big or too expensive at this stage. But we also know that the simplest ideas are often the best. So how would you kick-start growth and productivity in the UK that brings benefit to the design industry?

Your views can be as detailed or as brief as you feel appropriate.

We are also particularly interested in:

  • Case studies that highlight where design has had clear benefits to the wider economy.
  • Your views on where the government is seen as being particularly strong or weak in terms of promoting design and innovation.
  • Your opinions on what is unique about the design sector that cannot be replicated in other areas of the economy.

Next steps

The deadline for submissions is 5pm on Friday 24th March 2017

Evidence should be submitted by email to sally.lukins@dba.org.uk or in hard copy to:

Sally Lukins, Strategy Director, Design Business Association, 35-39 Old Street, London, EC1V 9HX 

 

Further information about the Government’s Industrial Strategy

In January, the Government announced a consultation into building a new industrial strategy, where the public sector works with private companies to promote economic development. The initial views of the government outlining the way forward have been published as a so-called Green Paper, which is available here.  

The strategy has highlighted Ten Pillars, summarised below, that show the range that the new set of industrial policies will focus on: 

  1. Investing in science, research and innovation
  2. Delivering affordable energy and clean growth
  3. Driving growth across the whole country
  4. Upgrading infrastructure
  5. Supporting businesses to start and grow
  6. Encouraging trade and inward investment
  7. Creating the right institutions to bring together sectors and places
  8. Developing skills
  9. Cultivating world-leading sectors
  10. Improving procurement

The Government has also announced that the Creative Industries will form one of the first five specific “sector deals”. A review, led by Sir Peter Bazalgette, will look into how the UK’s world-leading creative industries can lead the way in developing new technology and intellectual property rights, and it is expected that this submission will feed its way into this area of the economy.

Image credits: © Robwilson39 | Dreamstime.com

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Main Content

damoncroppedWe caught up with The Fund’s founder Damon Bonser to find out more about the benefits of getting involved:  

Why was The British Design Fund set up?

The UK has the second largest design sector in the world and the largest design industry in Europe.  However, there is an astonishing lack of equity funding into early stage product design and hardware businesses.  Most product start-ups are relying upon innovation grants and crowdfunding platforms to get their first products off the ground.  These are either lacking in commercial focus, or don’t bring any expertise and only deliver cash to businesses that badly need experts alongside the money.

Who can benefit?

Businesses that are likely to benefit most from the Fund are companies that have perhaps already graduated from an award or mentoring scheme like the Design Council’s Spark programme.  They will have a proof of concept or a prototype and will be now looking to take the next steps towards market.  In its first run the Fund is likely to lean towards consumer products with a route to market via a retail buyer as well as opportunities in the lower-tech end of the medical and healthcare device sector.

What support are these businesses likely to get from the Fund?

Product expertise and access to networks within retail, product design and manufacturing will be leveraged across the teams to drive growth potential.  Investee Companies will receive specific support on market entry, sales strategy and execution, intellectual property, manufacturing and margin control, branding, cashflow and stock control.

How do you expect these businesses to benefit over the longer-term as a result?

The businesses will benefit in the longer-term by having the necessary support and funding that is needed to ambitiously grow within the UK and successfully launch into overseas markets.  The Fund will keep the businesses focussed on the crucial initial growth phase of their lifecycle and ensure that long term value is being built into the business and is being preserved.

Anything else that would be useful to know? 

The British Design Fund will begin making investments in April but in the meantime we are still open to any further investors that are interested in investing into the Fund. 

Where can interested parties access more information?

For more information, please email Damon Bonser at enquiries@britishdesignfund.co.uk

www.britishdesignfund.co.uk

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Design driving growth in global businesses

deluxe_detailAt a time when many businesses are struggling to identify where future growth opportunities will come from, Diageo and Lucozade Ribena Suntory are fantastic examples of global businesses’ valuing design’s intrinsic ability to react to the challenges of changing markets to unearth opportunity and drive positive change and growth in both the short and long-term for their brands.

As a well-recognised brand, overhauling Diageo’s premium Scotch whisky range Buchanan’s was not without risk, but forceMAJEURE’s redesign has been a game changer, increasing brand distinctiveness by 20%, delivering 8% volume gains across all markets globally and justifying an increased priced point. (Gold Award winner)

orangina-range-72dpi
Retail sales value of Lucozade Ribena Suntory’s Orangina increased by 66% in the second half of 2015, following the new pack re-launch, reversing a 20% decline in previous years. BrandMe’s premium repositioning of the iconic brand enabled it to achieve its highest market share in company history. (Gold Award winner)

 

seed-and-bean2_lo-resDesign as the critical enabler for competitive advantage

In any marketplace, only one business or brand can be the cheapest, the others need to differentiate to compete and succeed. Struggling to survive, the Organic Seed and Bean Company turned to design as the means by which to develop differentiation for their business and to drive competitive advantage. Their new brand strategy and identity by Family (and Friends) has seen the business’s income triple. They’ve been able to improve conditions for their ingredient growers’ communities as a result, whilst the introduction of a compostable wrapper has saved 2.3 tonnes of packaging from landfill. (Gold Award winner)

bunel_brand_ethos_2

And Brand Ethos & Reason Design’s student recruitment design strategy has reignited growth for Brunel University London. In 2016, undergraduate applications rose by 9% compared to an 8% fall among competitors and £9.45million in additional student fees has been achieved. (Bronze Award winner)

Watch Deborah Dawton's opening speech from the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards Ceremony on 1 March 2017

Design as the fast growth imperative for start-ups

jkr-hippeas-5For any start-up, whether challenger brand breaking into a market or global enterprise moving into a new space, in this day and age design is not an optional extra – it is the vital business imperative to achieve differentiation and ensure success. Take Green Park Brands – with a bold brand positioning and design by Jones Knowles Ritchie, its organic snack Hippeas had a seriously successful launch with listings in 16,000 UK and US stores achieving unprecedented levels of distribution for a start-up. (Gold Award winner)

1_sopharmacy_exterior_rgb_72dpiAnd new retail pharmacy brand SOpharmacy achieved growth fives times faster than the overall Bulgarian pharmacy market, thanks to a disruptive positioning and design by Creative Leap that shaped everything from its identity, to retail design and service offer. Success has been such that they are now opening one new store a month on average. (Silver Award winner)

Design bringing brands to life experientially

999-ft_com-image3As customers become ever more selective, the quality of customer/user experience is pivotal to success. Design is fundamental to this experience. In just two months, the Financial Times generated over £26,000 in savings with a new email design by 999 Design that achieved vital cut-through and engagement, driving customer retention for FT.com. The visual impact and clarity of information of the ‘Renewals and Step Up email’ has delivered a 200% increase in engagement related clicks and saw a significant reduction in cancellations of digital subscriptions. (Gold Award winner)

mindmate-images4Since its launch in 2015, online mental health service hub MindMate has helped thousands of young people in Leeds navigate challenging times. Through agile, user-centric design NHS Leeds South and East Clinical Commissioning Group and Thompson Brand Partners created a website trusted by young people that makes mental wellbeing services more accessible. 1,495 young people used it in May 2016 alone and it is now seen as a best practice example to create similar services in other locations. (Gold Award winner)

Design realising business opportunity

the_engine_room_graft1Design can identify and deliver powerful commercial opportunities, not simply in line with a business’ initial expectations, but in realising opportunities above and beyond objective, in broad and extensive ways. Polyseam’s annual sales revenue has jumped 744% following the recommendation of a shift in strategy by their agency The Engine Room. The design insight and research carried out at the outset of the project led to the launch of new product brand GRAFT and transformed the business, moving it from manufacturer to brand house, and increasing export sales by £1million. Jobs have been created at the business and a new purpose-built factory is being constructed, which will likely create 50 new jobs by 2020. (Gold Award and Grand Prix winner)

All 42 winners’ case studies can be viewed online at effectivedesign.org.uk.

For more information and images please contact Sally Lukins, email: sally.lukins@dba.org.uk, tel: 020 7251 9229.

The DBA Design Effectiveness Awards judging panel

This year’s judging panel included Mike Brown, Commissioner, Transport for London, Josh Berger, President and MD, Warner Bros, Dr Andy Palmer, Chief Executive, Aston Martin, Graham Bednash, Consumer Marketing Director, Google, Conran Bird, GREAT Campaign Director, HM Government, Mauro Porcini, SVP & Chief Design Officer, PepsiCo, Deborah Meaden, Businesswoman and Entrepreneur, Meadenspeak, amongst other leading figures. See here for full list of judges.

Special Awardsdesign_effectiveness_awards_2017_96

In addition to the Grand Prix which was won by Polyseam and The Engine Room for GRAFT, the other two special awards presented on the night went to Elmwood: the Top of the League Award (recognising the most impressive cumulative performance from an agency over the last three years) and the International Export Award (presented for the most effective piece of work undertaken by an agency for an overseas client).

Entering the 2018 DBA Design Effectiveness Awards

The Call for Entries for the 2018 DBA Design Effectiveness Awards will launch in Spring 2018. Interested parties can register to receive full details on how to enter at www.effectivedesign.org.uk or email awards@dba.org.uk.

DBA Design Effectiveness Awards sponsors

 

We were kindly sponsored by UPM Raflatac, Red Setter, Epic Creative Print and Stratton Craig, and our media partner for the awards, Dezeen.

Table of winners

Trophy

Project

Client

Agency

Industry Sector

Bronze

Intel at MWC 2016

Intel Corporation

2LK

Mobile telecommunications

Gold

FT.com Customer Retention Journey

Financial Times

999 Design

Media

Silver

Sapience HR Rebrand

Sapience HR

Absolute

Support services

Gold

The Way of the Noodle

Kabuto Noodles

B&B studio

Food producers

Bronze

Brunel University London Design Strategy

Brunel University London

Brand Ethos & Reason Design

Public sector

Silver

Selwyn’s Sells Seaweed from the Seashore

Selwyn’s

Brand Union

Food producers

Gold

Orangina: Shaking Up a Classic

Lucozade Ribena Suntory

BrandMe

Beverages

Silver

MOMA

MOMA

BrandOpus

Food producers

Bronze

Twinings Sweet Greens

Twinings

BrandOpus

Food producers

Bronze

Twinings Discovery Collection

Twinings

BrandOpus

Food producers

Bronze

Freedom Finance Repositioning

Freedom Finance

Conch Associates

Financial services

Silver

SOpharmacy

SOpharmacy

Creative Leap

Food & drug retailers

Bronze

The Rise of Mercury Hard Cider

Carlton & United Breweries

Denomination

Beverages

Silver

Flora ProActiv

Unilever

Design Bridge

Food producers

Gold

SKYR

Arla Foods

Elmwood

Food producers

Silver

The Snowdon Trust

The Snowdon Trust

Elmwood

Charity

Gold

Redefining a Mexican Icon

Heineken Tecate

Elmwood

Beverages

Silver

Entertainment Unlimited

HOOQ Digital

Elmwood

Media

International Export Award

Redefining a Mexican Icon

Heineken Tecate

Elmwood

Beverages

Top of the League

   

Elmwood

 

Gold

Saving the Organic Seed and Bean Company

Organic Seed and Bean Company

Family (and friends)

Food producers

Gold

Buchanan’s

Diageo

forceMAJEURE Design

Beverages

Silver

Dune ‘Catwalk Concept’

The Dune Group

Four-by-Two

Personal goods

Silver

See Humans Fly

Glasgow Life

Front Page

Travel & leisure

Gold

Horlicks India Restage

GlaxoSmithKline

GSK Nutrition Design Team & Cowan

Beverages

Gold

Hippeas

Green Park Brands

jones knowles ritchie

Food producers

Bronze

Lloyds Clapham Junction

Lloyds Banking Group

M Worldwide

Financial services

Silver

Comfort Intense Fabric Conditioners

Unilever

PB Creative

Household goods & home construction

Gold

Cawston Press Sparkling Cans

Cawston Press

Pearlfisher

Beverages

Bronze

Dimension Data

Dimension Data

Prospect

Software & computer services

Silver

Booths Bags for Life

Booths

Smith &+ Village

Food & drug retailers

Gold

Booths Own Label

Booths

Smith &+ Village

Food & drug retailers

Silver

Armstead

AkzoNobel

Springetts Brand Design Consultants

Household goods & home construction

Silver

Whitworths Shots

Whitworths

Springetts Brand Design Consultants

Food producers

Bronze

McVitie’s Cakes

McVitie’s Cake Company

Springetts Brand Design Consultants

Food producers

Bronze

Monty Bojangles Taste Adventures

The Monty Bojangles Company

Springetts Brand Design Consultants

Food producers

Silver

Growing The Donkey Sanctuary

The Donkey Sanctuary

The Allotment

Charity

Gold

GRAFT Brand

Polyseam

The Engine Room

Construction & materials

Grand Prix

GRAFT Brand

Polyseam

The Engine Room

Construction & materials

Silver

The Story Shop

World Vision UK

The Yard Creative

Charity

Gold

Harrogate Spring Water

Harrogate Water Brands

Thompson Brand Partners

Beverages

Gold

MindMate

NHS Leeds South and East Clinical Commissioning Group

Thompson Brand Partners

Public sector

Bronze

Wilson Browne Rebrand

Wilson Browne Solicitors

White Clarke Creative

Financial services

Silver

People Charter & Internal Branding

Homeserve

WPA Pinfold

Financial services

Gold

Green’s Gluten Free Beer

Green’s Beers

WPA Pinfold

Beverages

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