The following column examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry.

How many times have you sat through a design credentials presentation and listened to the salesperson apply words such as 'effective' or 'strategic' or 'market-driven' to the work spread out before you?Probably more times than you can count. In fact, you...

How many times have you sat through a design credentials presentation and listened to the salesperson apply words such as ‘effective’ or ‘strategic’ or ‘market-driven’ to the work spread out before you?

Probably more times than you can count. In fact, you have most likely heard these adjectives used so often that they no longer have any utility whatsoever.

In a business environment where what counts most is the bottom line, words like these have more pertinence than ever (which, of course, explains why they are the salesperson’s favorite adjectives.)

But the language of the bottom line is not one of words so much as of numbers. The adjectives, no matter how superlative, require the support of hard, cold statistics in order to be truly meaningful.

For marketers who seek such meaning in the design of their products and services, evidence was in abundance last week at the second annual Financial Post Design Effectiveness Awards.

Inaugurated in conjunction with the Group for Design in Business, the Financial Post Design Effectiveness Awards are the only Canadian awards to evaluate designers’ work on the basis of commercial effectiveness.

Unlike the work which can be seen in countless design annuals (which tends to be evaluated on the basis of aesthetics and wit alone), the work in this show had to put its money where its mouth was by proving, with statistical evidence, that it helped businesses build markets and become more profitable.

Citing his own story of how effective design can be, The Financial Post’s publisher, Douglas Knight, told an audience of 300 designers and businesspeople that a simple switch from broadsheet to tabloid format increased readership of the weekend edition of The Financial Post from 172,000 to 190,000.

Categories of work submitted included the design of products, commercial and retail environments, packaging, corporate identity, literature, architecture, leaisure/public space and exhibits.

The Best of Show award went to an ingenious modular building system based on the same concept as Lego blocks. The difference is that these plastic ‘blocks’ are for the construction of real houses.

Conceived and marketed by Royal Building Systems (Canada), this modular prefabrication system’s ingenuity was definitively demonstrated by a time-lapsed video of a small home being constructed by a crew of four men.

In real time, the job took 12 hours.

The commercial result of this product’s introduction is that it has effectively created its own market. Global demand has far outstripped Royal’s capacity to produce, a problem most marketers would love to have.

Winner in the packaging design category was Oshawa Foods’ latest private label entry, Valu Club.

Awards reflect the bottom line

Designed by Spencer Francey Peters, the Valu Club system’s austere, no-nonsense look recalls the successful ‘no-frills’ formula that made Don Watt famous.

The colors and forms are different, but the message is the same: these bulk products are designed to save you money.

Since its introduction, the Valu Club label has racked up some impressive numbers: Oshawa Foods had projected sales of $6 million over six months; it achieved that goal in a mere six weeks.

The winner in the retail environment category was Allders International, for its Allders Duty Free shops found in Canada’s airports.

Designed by The International Design Group of Toronto, this retail environment has turned in an astounding figure of $2,000 in sales per square foot, far exceeding the industry average of $300 to $400.

Even the category of corporate identity, which is traditionally hard to track in quantitative terms, had a profitable tale to tell.

Langdon Hall Country House Hotel, a resort and spa located near Cambridge, Ont., won best of category for its warm and evocative identity program.

Designed by Heather Cooper, it bears her unmistakable style, building its visual identity around a detailed painting of the hotel itself. The result: annual revenues of more than $30,000 per room, as compared with the industry average of $9,000.

The message delivered by these and other winning entries is clear: design can make a significant difference to the profitability of products and services.

For anyone who still considers design and business to be strange bedfellows, a walk through this show would indeed be a profitable experience.

Note: Winning entries will be in exhibit at the Design Exchange, Ernst & Whinney Tower Pavilion, 222 Bay Street, Toronto, from June 8-25.

The Group for Design in Business is a non-profit membership organization composed of firms from a broad base of design disciplines – industrial, interior and graphic design, architecture and landscape architecture.

Membership is also open to business, non-profit organizations, individuals and government bodies, all of which share an interest in supporting design as a critical factor in the competitive standing of Canadian Industry.

For more information, call (416) 368-3626.

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