Clive Grinyer, DBA Design Effectiveness Awards Chairman of the Judges and Head of Service Design at the RCA, writes about what the 2021 winners can teach the industry on design effectiveness.

The DBA Design Effectiveness Awards are unique in measuring and celebrating the success that is directly attributable to design. But this is just the start of the story – what can we learn from these successful organisations about how they and their designers collaborate to achieve such impressive success?

Strong agency-client relationships are key

Dai Sanders, Consumer Sector Manager at design agency DCA, has been designing award-winning products for Reckitt for over 15 years and this year’s Silver-winning Air Wick Essential Mist is an innovative solution which responded to customer insight to achieve tremendous commercial success for the business.

Defining a new premium segment in mass-market air-care, Air Wick achieved UK sales growth four times higher than the wider, declining category with Essential Mist. With its sleek, easy-to-use design informed by the extensive user research, household penetration of the vaporiser has grown every year since its 2018 launch, and it is now a £100 million business. The innovative design also enabled development of a connected Bluetooth version in 2020.

Sanders cites DCA’s deep knowledge and understanding of the brand heritage and values of Reckitt that they can articulate and sustain across different product lines and changing company management. For Reckitt and DCA, design is not just a superficial exercise at the end of the process. It is deeply engrained in a strong relationship and a strategic level of mutual understanding with their design successes born out of an open, candid relationship.

Effective design is embedded from the start

For Philip Koh, Director of Strategy at Without, working with Sodexo on the transformational ideas behind the Grand Prix-winning Modern Recipe catering solution, trust and openness around the design process allowed a radical rethink of the whole service experience increasing turnover, transaction value and margins at sites across nine countries. The concept was not just to be imagined, but delivered, from the interior design to the food on the menu.

“There’s a tendency for designers to wrap up what we do in quite opaque language because we’re trying to protect the magic of design”, says Koh. He believes cutting out jargon and being open and straightforward with what you’re doing is essential in building trust between agency and client, highlighting that throughout the whole process, Without connected every design decision made with a relevant outcome for Sodexo.

Koh is clear that the success of projects is “as dependent on the client as it is on the design team”. A team that is consciously aware of the value of bringing in the design agency at an early stage can be key to unlocking success. “From the very first stage of the briefing,” says Koh, “we should be asking what are we trying to achieve? What are the metrics to show that we are achieving this? And then the design should come from this.”

The strategic role of design

The stories behind DBA Design Effectiveness Awards winning companies and the designers they work with show the value of longevity, trust, shared values and the freedom to challenge and innovate. They clearly show that design is most successful when positioned at a strategic level, providing new insights and new directions and driving decisions around investment and scale.

Whether bringing new thoughts or serving as the gatekeeper of the brand, integrating design across the company, building trust, and being courageous and open to radical change has reaped rewards for these brands. In these times, we need to grab new opportunities and work with design talent to help visualise the options and make the big decisions that achieve results.

Design effectiveness does not come from a slap of magic lipstick on a poorly considered idea. As these examples show, it is a systemic, collaborative end-to-end process that ensures all parts work together to create success, however you measure it. Effectiveness is about successful collaborations that make a difference.

DBA Design Effectiveness Awards 2022

The call for entries for the 2022 DBA Design Effectiveness Awards is now underway. The entry deadline is 5 November 2021. Download an entry pack here