Title: Comment Creating a design policy for the Co - op
Author: Richard Carr
Creating a design policy for the Co - op
The decision made by the Co - operative Wholesale Society earlier this year to set up a design panel - consisting of six directors and three managers from the CWS itself, one general manager from a local co - operative society and two outside members (see DESIGN 207/69) - is a bold and imaginative step and one that we feel had to come. From the public point of view, little is known about the CWS except that it is a vast organisation making or marketing a large number of goods whose common source is disguised under approximately 140 different brand names.
Less enigmatic are the retail shops, not owned in fact by the CWS but by local co - operative societies, many of which have unfortunately gained a reputation for being rather old fashioned establishments catering for the lower end of the price scale. This reputation, of course, is not always deserved. Some societies, like those at Plymouth, Oxford and Scunthorpe have been noted for the high standards of their stores, supermarkets or house styles. But the co-operative movement as a whole has recognised for some while the need to up-grade its image; hence perhaps, the rather odd feeling engendered by the advert - showing a group of elegant people stepping out of their Jaguar- put out in conjunction with the short lived Co - op in Oxford Street, London.
It is, of course, in the shops that the public comes into contact with the goods and services offered by the CWS. However, the design organisation, which will be headed by a director of design, will have jurisdiction over CWS products only. What influence it will have on local shops will depend on its powers of persuasion, except when local societies rebuild or open new shops with the help of the CWS's architects department, in which case the design organisation's influence will be more direct. But to change in any way the goods that the CWS makes and supplies is itself a mammoth task, involving basic design attitudes and solutions (in furniture, for example) on the one hand, and every aspect of presentation on the other.
The first job that will be given to the organisation, therefore, will be the establishment of a single brand name for all CWS goods coupled, perhaps, to a single symbol. Three aspects of this problem will have to be considered. First, although a number of current brand names are under consideration, they do not include 'Co - op', which is the one word that is already established in the public's mind as referring to the whole co-operative movement. Second, an effective house style often requires a symbol, which would be particularly valuable if the CWS extends the range of its exports (and this would certainly happen if Britain joins the Common Market). Here consideration would have to be given to the relationship of the symbol with the sort of design which has been suggested by the Swiss as an international co - operative emblem.
Finally, the CWS might do well to examine what has been done by Sainsbury's, whose labelling is a model of design integration. Among all the tins and boxes that a housewife brings into the kitchen, none at the moment compares with those from Sainsbury's for clarity of lettering, purposeful use of colour, and concise but comprehensive description of contents. The establishment of such a unified system of presentation will obviously be one of the biggest jobs which the CWS's design organisation will have to tackle.