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Opinion: Is the design world in danger of a creative vs commercial split?

Posted by Rob Alderson,

This week Rob Alderson looks at a design awards scheme with a difference and wonders if there’s too much of a divide between certain sections of the creative industries. As ever you can add your thoughts using the discussion thread below…

Last week I went to a design awards ceremony and didn’t see one hipster beard. Usually at this kind of affair you can’t move for stepping on the toes of a displaced extra from the TV series Girls, but this wasn’t like that at all. The Design Effectiveness Awards are run by The Design Business Association, and celebrates those projects which have had demonstrable results on the sales of the products in question. As the DBA writes on its website: “The best design is accountable, delivering both creatively and commercially. That’s the very essence of effective design.”

The big winner this year was B&B studio which oversaw every step of the branding and packaging for BEAR healthy fruit snacks. In three years, sales of BEAR went from nothing to – wait for it – £6.4 million. In 2012 the brand sold 30 million portions and as the judges noted: “Its pure and natural identity has convinced supermarkets to sit BEAR in the unbranded fresh produce aisle.”

Another big winner on the night was WPA Pinfold, which rebranded Croots, a specialist hunting clothing and equipment business formerly known as AC Supplies. Playing on ideas around traditional English heritage, the reported sales increase was nearly 18,000% (more than one wag on the night questioned what the starting point for this astonishing jump was).

Or what about The Team, and its campaign to raise awareness over gas safety issues which was credited with a 300% increase in high risk households having annual gas safety checks?

“The best design is accountable, delivering both creatively and commercially. That’s the very essence of effective design.”

The Design Business Association

I accept that these metrics are not infallible, and that other factors can come into play; in the case of BEAR a societal infatuation with healthier diets must at least be partly responsible. But the judges do try and take these things into consideration. More than one attendee at last week’s event remembered the furore over a lager brand that won big a few years ago, amid accusations that a gorgeous summer and a World Cup really accounted for its jump in sales.

But what last week mainly did was make me feel a bit embarrassed. We champion art and design of all kinds on It’s Nice That, but there is another, massive and very different design world of which I am shamefully ignorant. This feels like the coal face of design; the tea bag packaging that might not get a foot in on creative blogs but which must demonstrate its impact to hard-nosed brand managers.

I’m worried there is a schism between these two design worlds and I’m not sure that’s a healthy thing. DBA talk about the commercial and the creative; assessing design skewed too far towards either of these imperatives seems shortsighted.

Next year, I hope to see at least a couple of hipster beards at the Design Effectiveness Awards.

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Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.