Deven Sansare, Chief Creative Officer, Ferry Wharf Communications, argues that ad agencies have usually treated design as an offshoot of advertising art direction and not a specialised discipline, and that is why they have never been able to grow their design ‘cells’ beyond a point
Mumbai |April 21, 2014
“I am going for marketing,” Mrs Braganza is in the habit of announcing to her family when she steps out for her daily vegetable shopping. Advertising and marketing professionals snigger at this use of the term ‘marketing.’ But when it comes to ‘design,’ the same people are usually guilty of using it as inappropriately as Mrs Braganza uses ‘marketing’.
Types of Design
Design does wonderful stuff like Product Design, Logo Design, Corporate/Brand Identity, Packaging, Publishing, Retail, Display, Environment, Corporate & Commercial Spaces, Signage and Web Sites. Each type of design has its own science and calls for a unique set of skill sets. The tragedy is there aren’t too many schools in our part of the world teaching the science and art of these disciplines within design. There is NID in Ahmedabad and then there’s Ecole Intuit Lab in Mumbai whose first batch will graduate this year. I am sure there are more but I have yet to come across a student whose portfolio has made an impression. The Miami Ad School, which launched its Mumbai campus six months ago, offers courses in Copywriting, Art Direction and Design.
When I began teaching there in the second quarter, I realised that not a single student had enrolled for design! This lack of design grads is one of the reasons why most advertising agencies have never been able to nurture and grow their design ‘cells’ beyond a point. The other reason is that agencies have usually treated design as an offshoot of advertising art direction and not a specialised discipline in its own right. It’s like twenty years ago when I joined advertising; agencies would have a Direct Marketing division – less of a division and more of an effort to convince clients that they were ‘full service’ agencies.
Whatever the type of design project at hand, design, like advertising, comes from a thorough understanding of the product/service, the brand, the category, the target audience and the competition. At Ferry Wharf Communications (FWC), we conduct a one-day workshop with key people from the client’s product development, marketing and sales teams to table our understanding of these and brainstorm until we arrive at the Design Brief that helps us to formulate the Design Strategy.
For most, Design Strategy seems to be an oxymoron. For them, design is pretty, beautiful, ornate, etc. I guess they are thinking of wedding invitation cards! A few years ago while working on a design project with Mohammed Khan, he made a statement that had the ring of a universal truth: “The function of design is to solve a problem.” The best example of this is a coffee mug. The handle of a coffee mug is the ultimate example of design solving a problem – that of your fingers getting burnt while holding a mug of steaming hot coffee. The camel, not the prettiest of nature’s creations, is a great design and so are the mangroves with their roots that come up above water to breathe. Both are designed in a way that helps them flourish in their habitats. The extension of this principle to all the disciplines of design is natural, almost simple.
Another oxymoron? Not quite. Every product and service category has certain design codes. Bottles of premium and super premium whisky brands are always packed in an outer carton. In the retail category, especially stores, the symbol is disproportionately larger than the brand name. Think Macdonald’s and its golden arches. Think Shell. Not surprising since these brands are looking for fastest brand recognition from the farthest distance. Banks, which are as much retail brands today as they are financial brands, always have their logos in reverse on their branch signage and for the same reasons of visibility.
At FWC we recently did a brand name-to-advertising launch project for a retail chain of modern grocery stores. The name, Good Buy, came from the fact that it matched prices at supermarket chains and it allowed the customers to say ‘Good bye’ to the old kirana stores. The symbol – a bell – was borrowed from the mom and pop stores in the US – where a bell tinkles when you open the door. The bell that seems like an irrelevant symbol has been woven into the brand experience. We put bells on the entrance door. We put bells at the end of every shopping aisle – for customers to ring if they needed assistance. And we put a bell on home delivery vans so the sound of a bell tinkling became an audio-visual signature for the brand.
Hidden within the science of design is the science of colours. Psychologists across the world have researched the impact of colours on the states of minds of people. Forms, textures, materials – all play a role in the way people interact with design. That is its beauty – design is not just a visual experience; it involves other senses as well.
The Design Process
Saraswat Co-operative Bank has just turned ninety. Its chairman wants to redesign the logo. His reason is simple: An internal research done a couple of years ago has found that the average age of its employees is 45 years and that of the customers is 47 years. As a first step to attract younger customers, he has recruited younger people to manage the front end of the bank. Now he wants a new logo to do the same. I was consulting with Umbrella Design then. We began the project with research. I met and interviewed directors and senior managers of Saraswat Bank. A professional research agency interviewed account holders and employees. The research was done to help us understand the relationship between the brand and important target audiences and help us decide what to retain from the existing brand identity and what to discard.
The research results were unanimous across audiences. All of them felt a ‘Sense of Belonging’ when it came to the brand. We found a visual representation of this ‘sense of belonging’ in a pair of palms, cupped to care and protect, married it to the hexagon shape from the old logo, and voila, the new Saraswat Bank logo was born. Well, it was not quite voila! The entire process took nine months and the new logo application to everything, another six.
Like the advertising copywriter cannot sit in an ivory tower chewing pencils for inspiration, the designer cannot sit around chewing magic markers. What the designer does at the desk is just the beginning. He or she has to have a thorough knowledge of printing and fabrication technologies, not just different varieties of paper but also different type of materials from acrylic to vinyl and from wood to metal. Designers also need basic understanding of spaces, architecture, interior design, mould and die-making; the list goes on and on. More than half of design is engineering. But that is another article.
“I am designing a birthday card for you mama,” Mrs. Braganza’s daughter is in the habit of announcing a week before her mother’s birthday. We hope she grows up and joins a design school.
(Deven Sansare has been a freelance journalist, English Lecturer, journalist before settling down in advertising. He has worked in Interact-Vision (the now-defunct second agency of Mudra), Contract Advertising (1993-2000), Everest (2000-2003), Euro RSCG (2003-2005), and was a consulting Executive Creative Director with Umbrella Design (2006-20111) before setting off on his own. He is now the Chief Creative Officer of Ferry Wharf Communications (FWC) LLP, a design and advertising agency he co-founded.
The brands managed by FWC include Sula Wines, Fila Sports Italia, Shapoorji Pallonji, Raymond, Parx, Lokmat Media, Clinic 206, Dark Bay Cafe and Maharashtra Congress.
Sansare's short story 'Aaba and Other Mysteries' has been published by Penguin India and has also won the top prize at Shires Short Story Contest, Vermont. He has written the screenplay for 'Krish, Trish & Baltiboy I & II,' two telefilms based on oral Indian folk tales and produced by Children's Film Society of India. They have been aired on Cartoon Network India.)