CBC case raises issue of partnership

The following is one in a regular series of columns that examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry.The controversy surrounding the recent redesign of the cbc symbol has provided...

The following is one in a regular series of columns that examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry.

The controversy surrounding the recent redesign of the cbc symbol has provided us with a thought-provoking case study in the value of partnerships.

Over the 17 years since its introduction, this symbol has evolved from a trademark into a cultural icon.

And under the tutelage of creator Burton Kramer, it has blossomed into a comprehensively deployed identity program.

When the cbc recently decided to change its symbol, it sought the consultation of another firm, Gottschalk + Ash.

The question is, why would it wish to change horses in the middle of such a long and mutually beneficial partnership?

The reasons behind this particular decision are still unclear.

One answer may be that design is often considered an expense right off the bottom line, rather than an investment.

Design buyers are, therefore, under pressure to maximize value for money by any means possible.

Spec work

In these days of severe fiscal restraint, those means most often include things such as requesting speculative work (the giveaway); splitting a token creative fee among several firms who are simultaneously engaged to come up with ideas (the shootout); or seeking competitive bids for each new application of the same program (the bidding war.)

These one-off attempts at getting value for money may often be quick-fix solutions to the problem of cost control at head office, but they do not produce competitive leverage in the marketplace.

Mutual understanding

Only the depth of mutual understanding that characterizes a long-term relationship between client and designer can produce that.

Over the course of such a relationship, the designer not only develops an intimate knowledge of the client’s business, but also assumes a deep sense of accountability for the success of the design.

This results in a corresponding depth of commitment, and as the commitment deepens, the designer perceives a much bigger stake in the outcome.

It is at this point that the relationship changes into a partnership.

In assuming a stake in the client’s marketing efforts, the designer has invested creative energy and devoted service.

By accepting the designer as an important part of the team, the marketer has invested time, money and trust.

Since both are now looking for a return on their respective investments, the product of their relationship is bound to have added value.

On the other hand, short-term engagements driven by cost control create no incentive for either party to make a substantive mutual investment.

Giveaways, shootouts and bidding wars tend to devalue design and put designers on the immediate defensive.

If design has no value at the outset, how can it possibly create value when it hits the shelf?

Our own experience is that long-term relationships built on trust, mutual respect and open communication inevitably provide clients with the most valuable results.

One such relationship we now have with a worldwide consumer goods company is a case in point.

Through continued commitment to a common goal, what started as a simple service function has been transformed into an exponent of incremental value because we are able to bring increasing depth of experience to each new assignment.

If a different design firm was engaged every time a new assignment came up, there would be no chance to create value through knowledge gained on past assignments.

Broad perspective

It is only in the longer term that a designer can gain the broad perspective on a client’s overall marketing effort necessary to add value to individual projects.

As part of our client’s team, we have become strategic partners in that overall effort.

The mutual commitment and shared knowledge that have resulted from this provide competitive leverage that one-night stands can only dream of.

And when you have superior leverage in the marketplace, cost control will begin to take care of itself.

Will Novosedlik and Bob Russell are principals of Russell Design in Toronto.