“STRATEGIES DO NOT EXIST UNTIL THEY ARE VISUALISED. DESIGN IS INTRINSICALLY STRATEGIC. OUR VIEW IS THAT THE DISTINCTION IS SEMANTIC; THEY ARE ONE.” Practice statement, The District.
Incendiary statement? Going by the majority of mediocre visual brand executions out there apparently so, although strategic thinking has always been in the DNA of The District. It’s right there in our focus on and love of people, of meeting new people and understanding what drives them. It’s there in our fascination for the needs and desires of our clients’ audiences (be they customers, staff, board members, influencers, et cetera).
It’s right there in our studio mantra: do differenter. We look at our clients’ marketplaces and seek to create separation. And while there’s an element of the designer’s contrarianism (but not egotism) – of wanting to create something new and better – all is in the service of clearly and effectively articulating the client’s unique offering.
Equally, on branding projects we have inherited stacks of strategy documents that possess limited executional value. The formulation of strategy has merit only when it feeds directly into the creative process, allowing for the application of conceptual exploration and instinctive discovery.
For us true design work is the output of strategic thinking and creative development, of uniting the instincts of the philosopher and the artist, and of collaboration between agency and client. Often it leads us to re-examine the brief and test which boundaries we can jiggle a little to create breathing space for something special to mature, something which ultimately causes the target audience to waver in pressing that skip button, to pause next to that piece of out-of-home, or to hesitate before turning that page.
Because taking risks (calculated ones) is where real impact can be achieved and that is where we add value. By understanding and participating in the construction of a strategy we can better understand where to push on, rather than pull back. The distinction between design and strategy – for us at least – IS semantic; design without strategy is merely art-working.
Text: Stuart Anderson, Client Partnership Director