Is size everything?


I was at a design lecture recently by David Kester of the Design Council of which the focus was the need for small businesses to engage with design – incidentally a great lecture by the way. This learning was swiftly followed by a question to the audience around what the industry is doing to make design affordable to these companies. An answer wasn’t offered just an affirmation of the need. So what can we do? And how do we do it without devaluing our industry?

I don’t have the answer it has to be said, however I do strongly support the need. These companies form the future of our economy especially over here in New Zealand. Julian Smith of BRR has worked in this market (both client and agency side) for over 12 years and echoes this, “SMEs make up the backbone of New Zealand’s economy and have played a significant role in standing up in tough economic times”.

From a designer’s perspective SMEs have the potential to be dream clients, often with a blank or highly flexible canvas, however there are two problems. Firstly its a struggle to make the numbers add up, working for these clients wont pay the bills for long. Add to this the time and dedication often needed to educate the client around the benefit of design and we often find ourselves fighting a losing battle from a financial perspective.

Enter The Design Council and here in New Zealand, Better by Design. Initiatives like these are a massive leap in the right direction however their work is a drop in the ocean, there are only so many Government grants after all. There is also a question around whether we are tackling the problem at its core.

Design is fast becoming more and more accessible with one stop logo shops and crowd sourcing not to mention the DIY mentality. These days anyone and everyone is a designer including your Aunty Joan whose neighbour gave her a copy of Photoshop 2. Add to this the growing recession based trend of the ‘one man band designer’, a growing occurrence here in New Zealand, and agencies are having to work harder and harder to justify their price tags.

The problem is clear, our pricing model plots price directly against time applied with designers charged out by the hour. How do we reduce this when a designer approaches each project in a similar way with a similar process regardless of the size or budget. The same stages of creative exploration apply across the board so how do we reduce the cost without reducing the time spent and consequently the quality of the creative output? Is it time we took a step back, identified our unique assets and analysed out process with a view to packaging an affordable offering with effieciency at its heart or should the focus be on educating the client around the value of design? The choice is ours.