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Member stories: the transformative power of design

Design has the power to transform businesses, public services and people’s lives, but day-to-day, DBA members are facing design sceptics; those who may not understand the breadth of challenges design can solve.

Alongside the work we do to champion the transformative power of design and build universal confidence in design investment, DBA members are banging the drum for design everyday.

Here is a selection of great examples of DBA members in action; converting sceptics, building the importance and integrity of design in the minds of their clients and throughout the businesses they work in.

In this article you’ll hear from Good, tangerine, HSBC, Taxi Studio and Elmwood. We’ll be adding more stories quarterly. If you’ve got an excellent example, keep them coming to for the chance to be featured.

By Keith Forbes, Partner, Good

dba-members-panelAfter thirty years of delivering all manner of design services, I know my primary role in any engagement, large or small, is that of an educator. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, it’s a simple fact of a creative’s life: facing that withered smirk of scepticism from everyone outside of marketing.

Without doubt knowledge and understanding of the value that our profession can deliver to business, government and society as a whole is growing. But, the pace is painfully slow and the gulf between the enlightened minority and the ‘join the dots’ design perception of the majority is vast. And that’s where we come in.

At Good, we don’t always work with the sexiest brands on the planet. We’re Scottish, we’re pragmatic, we’re honest. We want to offer best value for every pound spent and that’s just not sexy in design speak. We started small and in our backyard, hard yardage, getting an impact and delivering on every brief we worked on. For sausage manufacturers, car dealers, thermostat specialists and power tool distributors. These people aren’t interested in ‘shiney shiney.’ They’re engineers, commercial managers, FD’s, MD’s, Sales managers and product demonstrators. Hard nosed haters of the unjustifiable cost of design frippery – or so they think.

Our job has always been to grow the religion of design, to educate and convert one more sceptic into an advocate. It’s missionary work, hard, thankless at times, but often rewarding and fired by the bigger vision of our profession: being truly recognised and respected by all as a true catalyst for change for the better.

The most powerful tool in our armoury has always been the word ‘NO’. It’s not for us. We can’t achieve your goals for that budget. Without a brief we can’t help you. We don’t pitch. No, we don’t do multiple ideas for free. We’re not in the proposal writing business. It sets a tone. A benchmark for our professionalism and the value we put on our expertise.

We always insist that understanding, foundations and clear goals need to be agreed before any design work can commence. Every facet of our design solutions need to be robustly justifiable through the filter of what we’ve collectively agreed. That’s why we only ever present one solution. This mitigates the ‘my wife likes pink’ scenario of the uninitiated, or the death by committee approach that results in a sanitised emptiness satisfying no one and achieving nothing.

We put our money, where our mouth is. We’ve started ‘Good for Nothing’. £50,000 worth of design services every year to a recipient who can’t afford our expertise but needs it to help the common good. This is the sharp end. Helping others by design. Taking time that might have been spent trying to win a gong and massage our collective ego and using it to underpin our positioning and values. This commitment to our cause, our ‘Why,’ resonates with our target audience, validating our approach and cementing our credentials.

Ultimately though, people buy people. Be honest, don’t oversell yourself. Tell it straight. Keep it simple. It’s not rocket science, so let’s not over complicate it. We are after all a professional services provider. Act like one and deliver results like one. More than anything else, this down to earth approach to delivering on our promises has stood us in good stead. Building an understanding of the importance of our profession and simply making things better, one client partner at a time.

As the world changes and more people and services are replaced by machines and technology, creativity will be one of the few bastions of human dominance that cannot be replicated. Focused creativity that simply makes products and services better for the common man will be a hugely valuable commodity. The advocates we create today, no matter how difficult the conversion, will be vital to fulfilling that vision.

By Laurie Bushe, Marketing Executive, tangerine

laurie-bushe-headshotOver the last thirty years, tangerine has become one of the world’s leading design consultancies. We’ve created some of the most iconic products and customer experiences for some of the best-known international brands.

Our work has transformed consumer’s lives, companies’ performances and even whole markets:

  • the yin-yang lie-flat bed for British Airways’ Club World changed the way we fly
  • the iconic Sky+ set-top box introduced time shift technology, changing the way we watch television. The ring of LED lights has since become the hallmark of the brand
  • the design spirit and strategy that helped turn Far East manufacturing giants, such as LG, into global brands and changed the way we shop

From the very beginning, we’ve tried to help businesses see beyond the obvious, to offer fresh thinking on what really matters. We’ve enabled CEOs and other seniors to recognise the value of design and the benefits it can bring to their organisation.

We understand that consumers want to buy into an experience. That crowded lives mean people increasingly seek simplicity and clarity rather than variety or complexity, but they also put a high value on style and meaning. They, like our clients, demand the very best design experience.

Our recent work with airline Cathay Pacific is a compelling example of how we built our client’s understanding of the importance of design to deliver the best possible experience for customers and create brand differentiation that added value to the business.

What began as a request for a design team to redesign the trim and finish on their new A350 aircraft interiors became an opportunity to radically improve economy class comfort through a unique seating design.

Using our considerable industry experience and expertise, we approached the chosen seating manufacturer and convinced them to change the design of their headrest to radically improve the passenger experience.

The new, unique invention proposed was to create a proprietary designed six- way headrest that increases lateral support to improve sleep. The result was heralded as the biggest upgrade to long-haul economy in 2017, leading media outlets to hail Cathay Pacific’s new economy class seat is a “tiny revolution”.

Over the years, success for us has been about learning, evolving and adapting to new circumstances, but without ever losing sight of the goal; to create ground-breaking innovation and design that makes businesses profitable and consumers happy.

By Gwen Haberman, Global Brand Manager, HSBC

gwen_haberman_lrHSBC is a huge organisation, operating in over 70 countries and territories. My role touches globally across media, businesses, propositions and cultures and I need to stay connected with them all. Over the past year of looking after the brand I’ve found that most people throughout our company are sincere natural problem solvers who want to deliver impactful creative work.

This enthusiasm from colleagues at times spill over into design and the brand. That is usually when my phone rings. Our brand is worth over 20billion dollars and protecting and raising awareness of the brand is a key part of my day-to-day routine. Being an agent for the importance of design is a key part of it. However, I’ve quickly found that what being an agent for design actually means for a global brand is quite different than what it means when managing a smaller one.

Sometimes it actually means letting go a little and just guiding the momentum that others are producing to a positive outcome. With digital becoming more and more important, I was aware that, like many other brands, ours would need to evolve for new spaces. A good example of this are the tiles that represent the App on your mobile. They’re much smaller and need to convey a lot more information. Our existing design approach and use of the logo just didn’t support it.

Like many brands, we’re innovating in the digital space at breakneck speed. I had many teams around the globe developing products and engaging agencies with an entrepreneurial spirit and the best of intentions. However, they had varying degrees of understanding of design and the brand their products were a part of.

So began a project of global collaboration. Working with the products owners, a team that manages our digital customer experience, creative agencies, as well as our internal in-house design resource – we created a design system that was flexible enough to accommodate our many (many) needs, but consistent enough that it looked like it was all coming from one brand, HSBC.

Once the guidelines and templates had been developed, we’d gone from an organic design approach, where some solutions were better than others, to one smart design system for the brand globally.

Two different animals.

Designing a brand and designing within a brand are two different animals. One of the biggest challenges during this project was to arrive at a design system that both celebrated the modern, innovative space we were moving into while still making sure we were taking the HSBC brand along with it.

After working with my colleagues and their agencies, we were finding that the solutions were innovative, but lacked a connection to the brand. The final solution actually came from an in-house designer in our office in Hong Kong. While it was his deep understanding of our goals and the brand that guided him, I don’t think his designs would have reached their final successful system without that injection of fresh thinking the agencies brought to the project.

Maybe it does take a village.

I’m used to hearing (and using) the saying ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’. However as this project evolved, the value that each voice brought was obvious. I had to let go of that old saying and focus on keeping the solutions true to the brand, keep everyone thinking about the integrity of the design and take advantage of the good ideas coming from different places.

I won’t lie, it can be a challenging mix to manage – and I suspect I have a little more grey hair now. However, business and marketers that bring the customers insight alive in the brief, an in-house design team, well steeped in the brand, as well as external creative agencies to challenge the status quo, resulted in a design system that was more considered and creative than if any one of them had done it on their own.

By Brian Mansfield, Managing Partner, Taxi Studio

‘I have to admit – we tend to think all this marketing and design is a bit, you know… waffly’taxi_website2015_team_grid_brian_mansfield_desktop

The opening words of our opening call with the two MD’s of Dolphin, the UK’s leading premium washroom supplier, in the Summer of 2015. They were on the phone, so that meant something – but it was clear that the value of design was something that we were going to have to prove.

Fast forward to 2017, and the picture’s altogether different.

Why? Perhaps most importantly, we reassured the team at Dolphin with the simple truth that our businesses – both owner-operated, and both stuffed to the brim with talented people who care passionately about what they do – shared a simple set of values. We established a partnership between peers.

Real relationships. Fairness. Care. Integrity. These values, enacted by all, quickly aligned us around an exciting and single-minded design challenge – to create a brand world for Dolphin that befits their products and their customer service.

We got to work, surprising and delighting the Dolphin team at every juncture;

Design excellence: The beautiful patterns of the company’s namesake leant themselves elegantly and simply to a new brand identity and architecture, giving differentiation and meaning to the products and services Dolphin offer, transcending everything from product packaging, to brochure ware and on-site signage.

Insight and expertise: A stunning new website – optimised for mobile – gives architects the access to the product range and speccing tools they need, when they need them, making it easier than ever for Dolphin’s most important audience to engage. Its function matches its form too – an easily manageable CMS will make future updates and product launches simple, and a full analytics dashboard means the team can analyse who’s using their site and how. In the first quarter, enquiries through the website rose by 225%, bounce rate decreased by 68% and time on site increased by 117%.

Intuition and empowerment: Finally, we unlocked perhaps one of Dolphin’s most potent forces – their people – to take proud ownership, and serve as energised and powerful ambassadors for their new brand; which was, for the first time, a worthy marque of their passion and integrity. This internal launch included everything from a beautiful illustrated book of values, to a VIP launch event in which the team assembled and signed a collective commitment to their brand, and each other; a celebration of their business today, and an excited toast to the future.

All told, it’s work we’re incredibly proud of – and work that reflects a journey we walked together with our clients. Proudly sat at the centre of our logo is our first business value; fearless creativity. This work and this journey is a wonderful show of it in action.

As we opened with their words, we’ll do our friends at Dolphin the courtesy of letting them close:


Initially, we were healthily sceptics about the potential value of branding. Today, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Taxi to other owner-operated businesses for their dedication, attention to detail and passion for what they do.

By Rebecca Peel, Senior Marketing Manager, Elmwood

becIt’s not uncommon for clients to approach us asking for a logo or packaging design. But being the sticklers that we are, our first step is to ask why. We know our clients will always know more about their business than we do. But we’re there to listen, learn, and work with them to move their business forward.

Developing close relationships, collaborations and partnerships with our clients gets us truly under the skin of a project to understand the business challenge behind it. And it’s only then that we’re able to figure out what’s really required and deliver beyond brief – not only the requested logo or packaging, but a brand that’s rooted in an authentic and distinct point of view – with a compelling brand experience to boot.

These days though, brands not paying any thought to the experience are on a fast track to becoming a commodity. It’s the experiences that drive connections at an emotional level beyond the rationale of price and performance. And in turn, these connections drive behaviour, advocacy, and loyalty – the foundations of any great relationship between a brand and its consumers. Clearly, it goes without saying, that to resonate with an audience, you’ve got to get creative. Therefore to do something worthwhile and genuinely effective, it follows that the best brand experiences are those that are designed.

Over the past 25 years, we’ve uncovered some of the secrets to securing this type of commercial success through design. We’ve learnt how design can influence consumers through Biomotive Triggers® – radical sensory marketing techniques, developed in collaboration with Bradford University School of Management. In effect, we’ve been using the principles of neuroscience to decode effectiveness and how primal responses to external stimuli can be used to trigger positive action in consumers.

Take Andrex for example. We made an emotional connection with consumers in a category that takes three seconds to shop. The year after the rebrand saw an all-time record in revenue, alongside a three-year high of net sales value and operating profit.

Working alongside Saucy Fish, we realised people weren’t confident cooking or serving fish. We needed a ‘tell it like it is’ name and simple graphics to overcome the product challenge and to inject the category with some personality, attitude and innovation. The result? Saucy outperformed the market norm three times over and became a £40m brand in just two years.

But the final word – we’ll give to Challs International.


We’ve worked closely with Elmwood from the initial Design Council initiative in 2004 to strategically reposition the Buster brand; creating a vision and compelling brand proposition that has engaged both retailers and consumers alike. When you don’t have huge above the line budgets, you need to invest wisely. The principal focus of our investment for 12 years has been using the power of design to cut through at the point of sale, and that has been absolutely pivotal in making Buster the No. 1 brand. Graham Burchell, Managing Director, Challs International


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