Design for success


An array of events – on everything from graphics to street art – is making its mark in Design Week, writes BARRY McCALL

EVERY DAY EVERY one of us makes decisions which are heavily influenced by design. The cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the home appliances we use, even the food products we consume – our decision to purchase them has probably had as much to do with their form as their function. Yet we consistently fail to appreciate fully the design process itself.

Design is something ephemeral and therefore valueless. “Most clients see design as being somewhat bohemian or undisciplined, made up of prima donnas with funny hairdos who play with their computers all the time,” says Design Business Ireland chairman Nicholas Cloake. “Whereas the reality is that design businesses are firms like any other, with finance, human resources, sales departments and so on. Design is just the output – the business processes are the same.”

Design Business Ireland (DBI) is an organisation of designers established in 1991 with the objective of promoting the effectiveness and value of design to the business community, government and the design sector. “Good design must be effective and meet the client’s objectives, as well as having aesthetic merits,” says Cloake.

DBI is not the only group interested in promoting the value of design at present. Indeed, we are right in the middle of Design Week – the annual celebration of the best of Irish design – which runs until November 8th. The main purpose of Design Week is to highlight the important contribution good design makes to the cultural and economic life of Ireland through fostering a reputation for creative excellence and innovation.

It is an umbrella brand and works in partnership with a wide network of Irish design organisations and representative bodies. These range from professional design bodies, creative enterprises, design companies and studios, third-level design colleges and paper and print suppliers.

The week features more than 50 individual design events throughout the country with the aim of focusing attention on a selection of the best design activities in Ireland as well as highlighting the work of a number of major international designers.

“The basic idea for Design Week is quite simple; a range of partnership organisations agree to stage an event or series of events around the time of Design Week providing an exciting snapshot of the very eclectic Irish design scene,” explains Barry Sheehan, chair of the Design Week 2009 organising committee.

“Year on year, we have continued to grow our programme of activity, which is a great testament to all those involved. Following on from last year’s huge success we are delighted to have Bombay Sapphire on board as our official sponsor. Their support and involvement means we can continue to increase the number of venues, ensuring that our varied schedule appeals to and is relevant to the public at large.”

This year’s events included architectural lecturers and workshops, on-the-spot design challenges, heritage seminars and Offset – a series of creative events, which includes speakers and events on everything from graphics and illustration, to fashion, street art and music, with participants from various disciplines. They include some of the world’s leading names such as Massimo and Lella Vignelli.

Another of these events is the Designed in Ireland event in Waterford which runs until November 14th. “We wanted to highlight how design can make a positive contribution to business in general,” explains organiser Marcus Notley.

“Designers are, by their nature, creators and innovators and they can help individual businesses to innovate. This is very important in the current economic climate.”

A product designer himself, Notley believes that design and designers can help Irish manufacturers create better products and services and thus make the country more competitive. “Most designers’ jobs involve them designing for people,” he contends. “This puts them in a good position to understand customers’ needs and to know how they think and they can help their clients in this regard.”

Design can also make a significant contribution to the environmental agenda. “Design has for a long time been focused on the instant moment of purchase,” Notley points out.

“Making a product look good on a shelf and making it look attractive to the consumer was the aim. Now, with the changes happening in the economics of the world and companies having to take account of climate change and sustainability, designers have a new role.

“They are being asked to look at products and design them to make them more recyclable and more rebuildable. This will save on use of raw materials and will be very much more important in future.”

Indeed, we have already seen examples of this with the introduction of the EU Packaging Waste Directive a number of years ago. This decreed that companies minimise packaging waste on their products or face levies and fines in accordance with the “polluter pays” principle. It was designers who provided the solution to this issue through the clever redesign of a whole range of consumer products from fabric conditioner containers to soft drinks bottles in order to minimise the packaging and thereby the waste at the same time as actually making the products themselves look more attractive to the consumer.

Another person who believes that Irish design has a role to play in our future economic success is Niall Corcoran of Creative Inc, recent winners of the Grand Prix in the Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI) awards. More importantly the Creative Inc winning entry also took the Gold Medal in the European Design Awards earlier in the year – the first time an Irish firm took this accolade.

“The recession is not affecting the quality of Irish design, if anything it is sharpening and heightening the senses and whatever work is coming into the studios is being cherished that bit more,” he says.

“There was always a sub-conscious feeling in Irish design that we were that bit behind other leading countries like the Netherlands or Scandinavia. Clients and customers were slow to appreciate the importance of design. I like to think that this has changed and Irish design is now arguably as strong as its international competitors.”

“Irish design is right up there with the best internationally,” Nicholas Cloake agrees. “The sector has evolved a lot over the years. A lot of our top people have been trained abroad and have come back from centres of excellence like London, the Netherlands or Scandinavia. Ireland may not have the reputation for being a centre of design excellence at the moment but we certainly have the ability.”

Corcoran believes that winning companies in the future will be those that appreciate design and the contribution it can make. “While there are lots of Irish companies who understand the value of design there are lots of others who don’t.

“They might claim to be unique and leaders but they are more comfortable in the herd and are actually afraid to stand out from their competitors. You need a client and an agency working together before you can get great work. Of course, the agency needs to understand the commercial world the client works in while the client needs to understand the value design can bring. And you don’t need huge budgets for great ideas, just the right attitude.”

He cites the example of Havok, the Trinity campus company which became hugely successful supplying sophisticated software solutions to the computer gaming industry and was acquired by Intel, as a case in point.

“When the company came to us they were called Telekinesis Research Ltd and had a brain on legs as a logo,” Corcoran recalls. “We decided to rebrand them as Havok and gave them a buzz-saw as a logo. This was much more in tune with the computer gaming world they were aiming at. The branding gave this small Irish company the profile and the ability to box above their weight from day one.”

This is similar to the story of Kerrygold butter which is identical in every way to every other pound of butter produced in Irish creameries apart from its branding and packaging design. But the introduction of the Kerrygold brand still remains the single most successful ever international Irish dairy product launch.

Barry Sheehan hopes that Design Week 2009 will result in greater recognition for Irish design. “Irish designers are winning international awards and doing great work but are not being recognised for it,” he says.

“Through Design Week we are trying to get that recognition both from the public and the business community who are our customers and clients. We hope that Design Week will become as much a part of the national calendar as Science Week.

“Ultimately, we want people to recognise the high quality of Irish design. If you buy an iPod and read the packaging you will see that it is made in China but designed in California – that’s where we want Irish design to be.”