Design Intervention

W hether it’s the plush seating and cool music that Starbucks offers with its $4 lattés, Method’s sleek soap line packaged by industrial designer Karim Rashid or the all-pervasive iPod, Americans start their day with an element of design. And it doesn’t stop there.

In the past five years, design has climbed to the front of the American consciousness, and people not only expect form-beyond-function in public spaces, but they want stylish products to bring into their homes. As part of this new preoccupation, a growing number of clients are looking to design-centric brands for inspiration, specifically, Apple’s small—and getting smaller—miracle. From the iPod’s shape and size to its advertising, packaging and point of sale, it is a modern marketing marvel that other advertisers are looking to emulate.

Consider Radio Shack, a strip-mall staple long suffering from a reputation as the club house for A/V geeks. The retail chain in April awarded its $250 million account to Arnold, in large part because the agency proposed not just ads, but a 360-degree brand reconstruction, from the logo to the retail environment.

As a result of this growing demand from clients, some agencies find themselves playing catch-up. Many are building relationships with design firms, hiring more designers or increasing their role in creative departments in order to gain a piece of the U.S.’s growing $11 billion design industry, which includes graphic design, branding work and package design, according to the trade magazine Graphics Design USA.

“[There are a] handful of iconic brands that have the most charisma,” says Arnold ecd, director of design Robert Wong, who spent two years as creative director at Starbucks before joining Arnold in Boston last year. “They’ve all figured out that design is a strategic advantage. It’s the smell of the coffee shops, the touch and feel of the iPod packaging. Everyone wants that now.”

As an example of the importance of design, Wong points to Arnold’s current work for Timberland. The agency is redesigning the shoe company’s tags and shoeboxes. “Thirty million shoeboxes at 30 cents a piece is more than they’ve ever spent on media, and it’s the piece that’s most personal, the most visible experience of their brand next to the shoes themselves,” Wong says.

Likewise, the chairman of packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble, A.G. Lafley, has declared that the company’s point of difference is to go beyond price and technology and become the No. 1 design company in the world. “When you have the chairman of P&G talking about the importance of design, that sends a signal,” says John Jay, ecd at Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Ore. “Design is not something that is simply for the high and mighty.”

Joe Duffy is someone who has understood the design’s importance for decades. He partnered with Fallon in Minneapolis for 20 years as the head of agency subsidiary Duffy Design Group, before deciding last year the model didn’t work. Although design was an important component, the two shops still kept design and advertising in two separate divisions with separate bottom lines. “It looked good on paper and it always looked good going into the pitch, but in the cold light of day, it was extremely difficult to get all the forces working together,” says Duffy, now chairman of Duffy & Partners.

Client executives were themselves siloed and often unable to get approval from their brand counterparts for design efforts. More detrimental, Duffy said, was the attitude held by many ad creatives that design was a lesser art. “Creative people in advertising … don’t want to share in the creative process with people who perhaps don’t understand or might complicate their creative approach,” he said.

In a deal reminiscent of the Fallon-Duffy partnership—in that the partners intend to maintain separate identities, pursue their own business and collaborate when it best suits the client—Crispin Porter + Bogusky last month bought a 20 percent stake in Fuseproject. Helmed by National Design Award winner Yves Béhar (see On the Spot, page 28), the San Francisco design shop worked on the Mini Motion line. CP+B, which also has in-house designers, has come to the conclusion that “advertising is really very often a very small part of a brand personality, not nearly as important as production design or package design or interior design,” said chairman Chuck Porter.

Agencies that have taken steps to bridge the divide between advertising and design have reaped new business rewards, and that, they say, is the practical payoff to integrating design. Mono in Minneapolis has eschewed the traditional art director/copywriter duo in favor of a trio that includes a designer. The setup demands that a designer come to the table in the pitch and has yielded results that include Airstream motor home ads and a high-profile rebranding assignment from USA Network.

Mono co-founder and creative director Michael Hart says it was the agency’s design recommendations, in addition to its ad ideas, that impressed USA Network. And although the logo presented in the pitch was tabled in favor of one designed by Peloton in Atlanta, Mono’s 16-page brand “manifesto” became the color template for its “Characters” TV work and Web site. The agency sought to move the cable network away from its red, white and blue template and patriotic connotations and into a wider range of colors that would appeal to more people, said Travis Olson, Mono’s design director. “We just thought they could be more than that.”

The client agreed. “Our brand was very fuzzy,” says USA Network’s svp of marketing and brand strategy, Chris McCumber. “Our viewers liked us a lot, but they really didn’t have a sense of who we were.” Mono’s pitch put a point on that identity and pulled together collateral, traditional and Web efforts under the same umbrella. “It wasn’t just about a TV campaign for them,” he added.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty can also attribute recent new business wins to its in-house design capabilities. The agency, bolstered by new head of design Declan Stone and his two-man design team, won the Dyson vacuum account in September. For the pitch, BBH devised branding elements and packaging that aim to give Dyson the kind of rich retail experience pioneered by Apple. “We can complete the experience,” says Stone.

Stone, who ran Amsterdam-based design shop The Stone Twins and joined BBH earlier this year, says it was the shop’s creative pedigree and commitment to bringing designers on from the start that attracted him. “A lot of agencies will just stick design on in the end,” Stone says. But his team’s ideas are considered at the same time as those of traditional creatives during briefings. “The creatives think of one big idea, which is fine for a campaign. … It lasts three or four months. Designers tend to think more long-term. We think of the brand and the relationship with the consumer.”

After seeing how hands-on designers elevated campaigns for flagship clients like the American Legacy Foundation and Volkswagen, Arnold made organizational changes to greater incorporate design ideas in all its account work. To do so, Wong recast associate design directors as associate creative directors and dispersed the designers among various creative teams. Together, the designers, copywriters and art directors determine brand and media planning—a big change from the siloed-design-department model.

The move toward integration is a result of the financial demands of that model, in which each department has its own profit and loss, leading design units to pursue other, non-advertising clients. Mono co-founders Michael Hart and Chris Lange as well as Olson worked within such organizations at Fallon and Carmichael Lynch’s Thorburn. “Our organization has never been about trying to create design as a profit center,” Hart says.

The integrated approach is not limited to upstart creative boutiques. In July, Margeotes | Fertitta + Partners merged with Neil Powell’s 17-person agency, bringing design credentials and creative cache to an otherwise dusty agency brand. In 1999, when former Duffy designer and Fallon cd Neil Powell set out to create a design-focused ad agency, there weren’t many U.S. agencies that would call low-budget Rheingold beer “a dream assignment,” as Powell does. But the work became the agency’s best-known and a model of rebuilding a brand from the ground up with packaging, point of sale and traditional and guerrilla advertising. Now renamed Margeotes Fertitta Powell, the mid-sized agency looks for the kind of “hybrid” talent Powell always sought out— creatives with an eye for design and designers with a flair for concept development.

“The agency always did high-image work and has always had design capabilities on and off,” says MFP president Michael Kantrow. But while the agency consulted on Godiva’s repackaging initiative last year, it didn’t have the ability to take the iconic gold boxes to high-fashion accessories on its own. Now, Powell is attracting clients with needs broader than the shop’s luxe approach to print and TV, including the NBA. “All of a sudden, agencies are realizing that design is really important. The truth is that design has always been important,” Powell says. “Design is a given. It starts with design. Whether it’s a TV commerical or a logo … design isn’t just sort of this thing that sits out here and makes it pretty.”

And it does lend agencies a certain amount of buzz. New shops like Anomaly and Taxi boast designers as founding partners. Andrew Kibble, former director of creative services at G2 worldwide, the design and brand development group at WPP’s Grey, leads a team of eight to 10 designers at Anomaly, which recently finished designing packaging for Coke’s sponsorship of the 2006 Winter Olympics. The 40-plus-person agency—with designers from some of the best-respected design houses, including Landor, Wolff Olins and Interbrand—positions itself as offering brand-building solutions beyond ads, says founding partner Jason DeLand. “[Design] is definitely not meant to be an add-on service to advertising.”

And Taxi, founded by designers Paul Lavoie and Jane Hope in Toronto in 1995, has brought its sensibility to the U.S. this year with a New York office. In Toronto, Hope says the agency has long married brand identity, packaging and advertising. “[Design] takes the brand relationship to a much deeper level. It allows the product to tell its story. Advertising sells. Design tells.”