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Title: Design management Four views on design decision making

Pages: 62 - 69

                        

Author: Dennis Cheetham

Text: Design management
Four views on design decision making
by Dennis Cheetham
On June 3, the Duke of Edinburgh will be presenting the first awards of the Royal Society of Arts' Presidential Medals for Design Management. Four firms have won medals in the category for "current achievements", and this article reports the views of their design executives on the way in which design is treated within their firms. Two Medals were also awarded for "long pioneering in the field of design management": these were won by the London Transport Board, which was the subject of an article in last month's issue (DESIGN 197/36-47), and by Heal & Son Ltd. whose policies will be discussed next month.
Design at the core
Tefence Conran, managing director, was in no doubt about the main reason for the design success of Conran & Co Ltd: "We're very lucky in that at the core of the whole thing there is a design group of about 30 people. Making design work all the way through a firm is very much a matter of internal conviction - people think of us as an amalgam of marketing and design right from the start, and this is a very big advantage.
"Being your own design group is so much better than going out to commission designers - which we only rarely do. Basically, John Stephenson and I are the filter for all design matters. We work out the brief, and give it as a package to the appropriate person in the design group. And we try to persuade our clients to act as we do - to establish standards to work to (rather on the lines of a design manual). This kind of approach does involve quite a large outlay in some respects, of course: for instance, we spend a great deal of money on getting the right quality of print and paper and so on.
"Recently, we have taken one or two non-designers on to the board; and they have a very stabilising influence. There is always the danger of getting excited by design possibilities to the extent that they start swaying your commercial judgement. In the other direction, the firm's staff also have an important part to play in maintaining standards. At present we can rely on being able to choose people who think in the right way. But as the company expands, it might be time for us to consider some sort of formal education - for our selling staff, for instance.
"I sometimes feel that there is a tendency for industry to say of some product or other, 'Oh, it's good enough for them'. Firms with very bright executives are often either totally i nsensitive to design or very contemptuous of their market. This is something we manage to avoid by the simple fact of being essentially a design firm".
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The Conran furniture factory at Thetford, Norfolk, was built under the LCC Expanding Towns scheme, and designed by the LCC architects' department.
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Terence Conran, managing director, Conran & Co Ltd.
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Conran used its own design group to transform into a West End contract showroom what was formerly a warren of small offices.
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The design group is also credited collectively with the design of the Summa range of furniture. Though this photograph shows the kitchen Storage system, the range covers furniture for most purposes.
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The firm has a flair for producing business-like interiors in a brisk but unpretentious idiom. this is the 21 Shop designed for Woollands.
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Conran literature is well laid out and informative. It makes particularly good use of detail photographs.
Merchandise is the fundamental spur
Geoffrey Gilbert, managing director of Jaeger & Co Ltd. felt very strongly that the decision to sell good products was very much more than half the battle in a firm's design campaign. "Our design stems directly from the clothes. Basically, we aim at the classic country girl, we market more or less in the medium price range, and we manufacture about 90 per cent of what we sell.
"Merchandise influences everything -that is the fundamental spur. Once you've decided who you're selling to, your design direction is decided too. For example - our clothes don't sell as well when mixed with other people's merchandise: they have to be sold as part of a complete story. We maintain we're not merely trying to design a suit, sweater or what have you, we're trying to dress a woman.
"The board takes policy decisions -for instance, the setting up of Young Jaeger. But they don't try to decide how that policy is to be carried out.
"You've got to carry your staff with you - but we find we get a tremendous care for detail right through the organisation. Our design staff is divided into specialist groups: we have one person responsible for Jaeger, one person responsible for Young Jaeger, one for the ads, one for our interiors, and a couple of people to do display. There isn't really any formal integration; we leave the different teams to their own devices. We find that once our people start asking themselves 'Is it Jaeger ?', then we get what we want."
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If shop fronts can fairly be said to have coolness and dignity, then Jaeger ones would qualify for this description. This one is in Sloane Street, London.
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Geoffrey Gilbert, managing director, Jaeger & Co Ltd.
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Clothes are the mainspring of Jaeger design. Jaeger is indeed regarded as the classic purveyor of the 'English look', of clothes which are high fashion but avoid the two extremes of Quant and couture.
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Window displays and shop interiors have the same air of good manners that characterises Jaeger clothes and the Jaeger image as a whole. Top left, Christmas window display on the theme of the Nativity; left, window display showing 'Paris line' suits and coats as a follow-up to a Paris collection. Right, the interior of a Jaeger Man's Shop.
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The Jaeger letterhead is a striking example of embossed lettering.
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Jaeger publicity material has to appeal both to Jaeger and to Young Jaeger customers, but maintains a unified style.
Let's have Mr Chippendale rest in peace
Leslie Julius, joint managing director of S. Hille & Co Ltd. feels with Gilbert that once the initial decision to turn out properly designed products has been taken, there is a tendency for a thorough design policy to follow almost automatically. "I'd better tell you again the old story of how Hille started producing modern furniture.
"In 1948, I saw an exhibition of furniture at Grand Rapids near Chicago. There was a lot of Knoll stuff, Hermann Miller stuff, that sort of thing. I thought, 'This is really crazy stuff; they can't possibly sell this'. Then I began to feel that there must be something seriously wrong with my visual training: I had to start learning. I told myself, 'Mr Chippendale has been dead a long time - let's have him rest in peace'.
"I realised that the whole range of culture and the arts had to do with environment and human relationships. The missing link seemed to me to be the people who made things. It occurred to me that one could make a contribution by changing environment- public conscience crept in through the back door.
"Once you get involved, you find your designer's way of thinking and looking at things rubs off on yourself. There's a sense of conviction running through things - now it runs through the whole staff from top to bottom.
"Naturally, you have to impose this conviction on other people: it's too slow for you to let it happen gradually. Hille had this tradition of superb craftsmen who thought the new stuff was crazy. But when they saw it was very much admired, they took a closer look at it (and later, too, a new generation which substituted technique for craftsmanship has itself made the change - over quicker).
"I think this is how you keep your sights high: the people at the top decide on a way of life, and once this is understood other people carry it on. Until recently, nothing affecting the public face of Hille could be done without Robin Day. Now it's too much for him alone to handle, so other people are involved. But to ensure continuity, any major policy decision is still made by him; changes are discussed with him, and he has to approve any new product before it is put on the market.
"I'd like too to emphasise the importance of technical leadership of people willing to deal with new materials and processes. We have made flops because we've been too far ahead of the market. But I don't regret it (in any case, they've usually been organisational rather than design mistakes -trying to do too much with too little). After all, we've built an international reputation in a very short time".
time". (caption)
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Hille's logo, bold and highly condensed, is both memorable and legible, two qualities which only rarely co-exist.
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Hille's press advertising, of which this spread is an outstanding example, also makes an effective marriage of impact and clarity.
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Top, Leslie Julius, joint managing director, Hille & Co Ltd; above, Robin Day, consultant designer to the Hille group of companies.
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Hille's showrooms: above, the Watford showroom, with interiors by Robin Day. Top right, the Hille of London building, designed by Peter More & Partners with Robin Day; above right, the Manchester showroom, converted from an old cotton warehouse.
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The BR heavy duty settee designed by Robin Day won a 1962 Design Centre Award.
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Recent furniture from Hille continues the firm's high standards: domestic storage system Series 3 Medium designed by Alan Turville.
A professional part of management
Jasper Grinling, managing director and design director of W. & A. Gilbey Ltd. feels that power is the essential ingredient of design policy. "I report to the board of directors on all matters relating to Gilbey design. The design director has pot to be on the board, he must be trusted by his board, and of course he must bear in mind all the time sound commercial principles. You have to think of design as a professional part of management, a part that must be dealt with at the highest level of decision making.
"Of course, there is another side to it. You've got to have a built-in humility - you mustn't interfere too much. And you must share your designers' testes. We had a flukey beginning: we simply wanted a sherry package, and the designers we went to turned out to be just the people for us.
"The design director sets the standards: but the vital link is the buyer working through the purchasing department. When the design director first takes over responsibility, there's a lot of hard work for him to start with. The buyer may, for instance, feel resentment that his job is being taken away from him. But after about five years he begins to see the point of it; and if he's at all intelligent his standards become your standards more or less instinctively. I may have been lucky here in spirit because this is a family business which looks for standards to be set at the highest level".
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Reservoir tank room at Gilbey's Harlow factory, which was designed by Peter Falconer & Partners. The warehouse has been described in DESIGN (190/62) as "an impressive example of factory organisation".
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Jasper Grinling, managing director and design director of W. & A. Gilbey Ltd.
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Gilbey's designers have produced a series of letterheads for the Gilbey group. This one is for the main British market
firm.
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When special glasses have been made by Gilbey, these too have been made a part of the total design brief.
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Exterior view of the Harlow factory, showing the distillery for gin and vodka processing.
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Off - licence exterior for Posters, the principal retail chain, part of the British Gilbey group. The designers have maintained a family resemblance to the Gilbey house style.
bey house style.
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Redesigns of the logotype, symbol and signature, previously used in an erratic variety of ways, were the early stages.
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The first product commission was for a distinctive bottle shape for all Gilbey ports and sherries.

 

 

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