One of the most obvious challenges this year – in terms of graphic design and branding – is 2013’s contrast to a rather abundant 2012. Whereas last year boasted high-profile events such as the London Olympics, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and its associated graphic design projects, this year is conspicuous in the absence of such design juggernauts.
However, as Rob Watson, co-founder of Raw Design Studio, points out, the 2012 momentum could carry on into this year. “I see this year as an opportunity to leverage the great creative events of 2012,” he says. Nick Finney, founder and creative director of NB Studio agrees. “2013 is a chance for smaller, lesser-known brands to catch up with the big brands that had the budget to dominate the sponsorship of the Games,” he says – an opportunity that consultancies should look to exploit.
Now that the gloss and feel-good effect of 2012 has subsided, however, the reality of the ongoing economic downturn is being felt keenly. But therein also lies opportunity, reckons Rob. “Yes, the budgets aren’t what they were but that can be a good thing. There’s been a wake-up call and from that there’s been some incredible work being produced, particularly from smaller agencies.”
For Rachel Smith, creative partner at & Smith, finding creative ways to deal with smaller budgets can help in ensuring a healthy client list. “It’s about putting the same level of thought into the production budget as you would with the ideas,” she explains.
For example switching to high quality digital printing if the run was small enough or using an iPhone photography concept for a shoot. “It’s about staying true to the idea regardless of budgets, and being creative within these restrictions to find the best solution for the client.”
One development designers and branding consultancies should take advantage of is the ongoing evolution of digital technologies. Dan Moore, creative director at Studio Output says: “Moving forwards, small specialised agencies will find it hard to survive without decent digital expertise in-house.”
Let’s get digital
Rachel says & Smith is meeting this challenge by “pushing ourselves into different projects to continue to stretch our understanding of digital platforms”. The consultancy currently works with external web developers, but is considering employing an in-house developer in the future. It’s also redesigning its website, says Rachel, “to ensure we are setting an up-to-date example to our clients”.
This year will also see more digital outdoor and experiential interactive digital work, believes Studio Output’s Ian Hambleton, so these areas present potential rich seams for those willing to experiment. “We’re already seeing a surge in Augmented Reality and this sort of technology will become commonplace,” explains Ian.
“The diminishing costs of large scale LED and projection means screens get bigger and better and they will start to permeate more into our everyday lives.” Using new technologies in innovative ways can help attract new opportunities. For example, Studio Output’s use of projection mapping in a viral video for Sony PlayStation attracted enquiries from as far afield as China.
It’s also a good time to seek out projects with brands that might have lagged behind the fast pace of development in digital platforms. “There is a plethora of hastily thought out lock-ups, tag lines, logos, symbols and diagrams as they integrate new technologies into their modus operandi,” NB Studio’s Nick points out. “I’m thinking ‘click & collect’, URLs and apps. So there’s a lot of work to do to make sense of it all, and ultimately make life simpler for brands and customers alike.”
NB studio collaborates with experts to tackle many of these technological challenges, and indeed, 2013 will be a year where collaboration becomes especially important. “Creative collaboration could be the antidote to a bleak year ahead,” says Nick.
“Clients are becoming more comfortable with collaboration,” says Rachel. “As long as the thinking is streamlined and has a group approach, then a one-stop shop isn’t as important as it used to be.” Last year, & Smith joined forces with We All Need Words on rebranding Shrewsbury, in “a great example of collaboration between two companies with different skills and an understanding client with the right attitude”.
Some of the most satisfying opportunities for enterprising studios might lie beyond British shores. Studio Output started to work “truly internationally” in 2012, with almost a quarter of its turnover coming from projects in countries such as China, according to Ian.
“We expect this trend to continue. It’s actually quite refreshing to be working for clients who have a huge respect for our work in Britain and the budgets to back up their requirements. Doing business in foreign countries is not for the faint-hearted though and learning the local culture is as important as doing the work itself,” he argues.
Last year, design consultancy SomeOne worked on a particularly satisfying project with Tanzanian airline FastJet. “It was one of the most exciting projects. They are a dream client, they really get it,” says creative director Simon Manchipp. “This could be the year that the small independents get truly international.”
Not all exciting opportunities lie overseas, however – there are chances for innovation and satisfaction very close to home, believes Raw’s Rob. “I still think there’s a lot of scope in print especially if you do a lot of work locally,” he says. “There’s been a resurgence in agencies choosing to do work for low key, local business. It’s not a bad thing either, as it will feed back into the local community and you’re more likely to get creative freedom and satisfaction with this type of client.”
Whatever client you’re looking to attract, one of your key priorities should be building of trust, believes Simon. “We’re really interested in a more idealistic approach to creating brands on a global level, which starts from a position of trust. In a year of unprecedented austerity, nervousness and lack of focus, trust is going to be thin on the ground, and I really believe that there is opportunity for brands to zig, while the rest of them zag.”
And according to Simon, consultancies can start fostering this by starting out “from a position of generosity”, not just offering the bare minimum. “This trust needs to start at the pitch,” he says. “[It’s about] how do you better cultivate stronger relationships with people so that they understand what your intentions are.”
So wherever consultancies are looking to find their opportunities this year – from nurturing clients to staying on top of technological innovation – 2013 doesn’t look that gloomy at all.