Five ways brands and agencies can thrive in an age of design

Experts from IBM, Channel Four and DesignStudio share their tips on creating and maintaining a successful client and agency relationship.

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Speakers (from left to right): Angus Montgomery, editor, Design Week; Amanda Gosling, global executive partner, IBM Interactive Experience; Alice Tonge, creative director, 4Creative at Channel Four; James Hurst, executive creative director, DesignStudio

Many companies are, or have ambitions to be, a design-led business. This has created a new ‘Age of Design’ where companies are applying design principles to everything from devising a new company structure through to product and service development.

This requires a different way of working, according to panelists at a Design Week Ad Week Europe discussion on the IPA Stage.

Amanda Gosling, global executive partner at IBM says: “The age of design is allowing people like us to work with different parts of our clients to be able to create products and services that engage their consumers in different ways.”

Create the right team dynamic

IBM’s Gosling believes the key to success is to create the right team dynamic to enable a client and agency to work together successfully. “It comes down to casting” she says. “You have to get down to the psyche of people, asking how are you going to get the best out of [the project].

IBM IX has had to rethink what type of person to “cast” in its teams. “When we were younger (as a company) we loved the charismatic person. We struggled with the data scientist because they weren’t a charismatic person. We gave training to encourage people to value the quiet as much as the loud.”

Alice Tonge, creative director, 4Creative at Channel Four, agrees that the success of the Channel Four rebrand was down to creating the right team dynamic. “It was a vast project and we don’t have a big team in house so for us it was about asking: ‘who are extended family? and how do you construct who’s working on [the project]?'”

Honesty is the best policy

Many businesses claim to be design-led so part of working effectively with a client or partner is to have an honest conversation with them, says James Hurst, executive creative director at DesignStudio. “I think it’s really important to be honest with the partner, whether that’s working internally as a group of people or working with a client.

We’ve [had to] have very uncomfortable conversations with companies that are very data-driven. They say: “We want to be perceived as a [design-led business] and we have to be really honest with them. It’s quite unusual to encounter that level of brutal honesty. That doesn’t mean that you’re rude but it’s about saying: ‘This is who you say you are but this is who we think you are. Somehow we’ve got to reconcile the difference.'”

Don’t be too prescriptive about the design process

Hurst adds that solving business challenges by using design means that the projects vary enormously, so the design process should vary too.

With the Airbnb rebrand, DesignStudio co-located and worked within the travel brand’s offices. “There almost wasn’t DesignStudio and Airbnb – there was just a group of people solving the problem.”

“As a result of that success, that has allowed us to say to people: ‘Don’t worry about the process’. I imagine that a lot of people here work in agencies where this is ‘the process’.” But Hurst argues that agencies don’t need a process, instead they need to work around clients’ needs.

IBM’s Gosling agrees: “There’s not a rigid process [at IBM]. We have the principles of design thinking that we use with every client, but we create their version of it so that it’s culturally acceptable to everybody in the team.

Collaboration is key

4Creative’s Tonge says the key to a successful working relationship is collaboration. Tonge says that although she works for Channel Four’s in-house agency, there isn’t a client/agency divide. This, she says, is why the creative process at the broadcaster works well. “What’s great about Channel Four is that it doesn’t feel like a client – they are colleagues.

“There’s a sharing of an idea rather than a selling of an idea. It’s like an extended family …building something together and that’s led to some great pieces of work.

Get ‘buy-in’ at a senior level

DesignStudio’s Hurst says agencies need to connect with the senior stakeholders at the beginning of a project to prevent a “what have you done” moment with a CEO or CMO, where they haven’t been part of the team from the start.

“Something that we try and do right from the beginning with any project whether it’s a two-man band or a two billion dollar company, is make sure we bring the CEO and the stakeholder team at that level on that journey.

Gosling adds that now you have to be “a great designer but you’ve also got to be a great influencer now”.

You can watch the full Design Week presentation at Ad Week Europe here.

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