The world of business has been utterly restructured by acceleration. Staff designers, copywriters, consultants and employees in small and large organisations alike are lead to work toward weekly and daily performances rather than traditional quarterly reviews.
We work, analyze, think, process, multitask and act in the moment, all while adapting to a shrinking sense of time.
Work is on a project-to-project basis as opposed to work founded on a relationship-to-relationship experience. Consequently, the time cycles of human interaction have greatly diminished with the proliferation of communications technology, which leads to creating more separation between individuals. And although the means to communicate continue to multiply, emails have replaced direct phone conversations and face-to-face meetings and greatly affected the quality of the communication itself.
Because people are prone to moving frequently from one job to another, long-term relationships have become much harder to establish and maintain. I have witnessed the frayed relationship between client and designer as companies focus on the bottom line and fail to recognize the designer’s role in empowering their business through great design. The relationship has suffered and most clients no longer know how to work with designers and often fail to establish a thriving and long-term business relationship.
As gluttonous companies eat up other companies in the dance of corporate decentralization, established branding programs are swallowed up and identity is easily diluted and lost. Contemporary corporate literature and graphics have become obscure to the point where you can’t clearly associate specific services or products to a company in today’s climate of conglomeration.
Blurred Identities and Accepted Practices
Yet while this trend compromises a company’s legacy and blurs its identity, it has become accepted practice. Researchers and consultants are now hired to find new, bland and insignificant corporate names for companies pressed by ever-changing concerns. Sadly, this seems justified when considering today’s business climate where holding companies face unique challenges like having to please their primary audience: the financial community.
Creating a corporate identity for such a company, who’s holdings might range from cosmetics to concrete, means finding ways to reflect the breadth of their business and conveying a visual assurance that if one brand fails, the balance of the portfolio brands won’t be affected.
In such a context, businesses are forced to seek out non industry-specific names, and not surprisingly, contemporary identities tend to lack the character and wit of their corporate predecessors.
So, if nobody knows who’s talking to who, that tends to dilute the identity of the project and water down the hierarchy of information and communication passed on down.
Looking at contemporary designs produced in today’s world of business acceleration, I sense a decline in cultural literacy among many contemporary designers. While they are more technically skilled, many lack a historical and cultural perspective, which in turn diminishes their frames of reference. In contrast, the growth of technological literacy has made life even harder for designers because now that most everyone has some kind of experience with computers, they’re under the impression that they can do it themselves and therefore think they know more than they actually do.
Few of Enron’s directors clearly understood what they were actually approving when they locked in the value of the company’s investments. And most of WorldCom’s board members did not fully comprehend Bernard Ebber’s obscure loan package that ultimately bankrupted the company. It took the insightful journalistic skills of a financial writer to sort it out.
Shareholders and board members now expect more information, disclosure, transparency and openness presented in a clean and clear presentation.
As the corporate world works towards rebranding itself based on accountability, designers need to be made part of the process and become allies in this reform. If businesses expect consumers to reinvest their hard-earned money and trust, then experienced and talented designers become the most qualified to become agents of that trust. Designers and CEO’s must once again recognize that business and design alliances are mutually beneficial.