Good Design: How Much Is It Worth?

GOOD design can be worth its weight in gold, but determining its value is often a contentious issue. Design, particularly graphic design, always seems to attract intense scrutiny from all corners, especially from Joe Public. Joe feels he has a good grasp of what looks good and what doesn’t so that more than qualifies him to critique a major rebranding exercise.
Just a couple of squiggly little lines cost $500,000?!?
That was the sentiment in early February this year when the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) unveiled its new identity designed by Landor Associates’ Sydney office. An impressive logo mark depicts five gold ribbons folded aesthetically into the shape of Australia. A superb illustration of simplicity with just the right amount of rich detail it needs to create modern visual power. Yes it cost $500,000 to completely produce and roll out… but was it an exorbitant cost or a sound investment?


Image source: Landor Associates []

I know which view I’d be voting for – the latter. Yet comments from all walks of life (alarmingly, even from the business world) mocking the cost of the exercise and questioning the need for the whole process came flooding in. Some were quite brutal (albeit shallow) in their assessment claiming that it was a “waste of money” and the end result was so simplistic that it didn’t warrant the “exorbitant” cost. I understand that the public presentation of a new company logo is always going to draw public opinion, especially when six figures are involved. However, I can’t help but think that if the general public better understood the value of design, we wouldn’t be hearing about the rebranding of one of our biggest global sporting icons in such a negative way. For example, the products of iconic global brand Apple are the epitome of simple, but devastatingly effective design. The iMac, iPod, iPad and the Macbook Pro are not only aesthetically pleasing and functionally clean, but useful and overwhelmingly popular. According to Fortune magazine in 2010, head designer Jonathon Ive’s designs have “set the course not just for Apple but for design more broadly”. Anyone who understands marketing knows that the key to all brand communication is perception. Brands need to engage with their viewers on an emotional level swiftly and effectively. Now if I’m an investor, do I want to buy into an organisation that I perceive as being stuck in the 80s – stale, outdated and underperforming?  No, not at all! Would I be more inclined to buy into a forward thinking organisation that has taken stock, assessed where it is, and has moved to overhaul its complete structure from the inside out to enhance performance at all levels? Yeah, absolutely!
Landor conducted market research to better understand the AIS. We found that although its state-of-the-art facilities and sports scientists had once been seen as key to Australian athletes’ victories at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, perceptions had since changed dramatically. The AIS was no longer contemporary and lacked relevance among young athletes, potential sponsors, and commercial partners.” – Landor Associates
A new logo is just the tip of the iceberg in a complete rebrand. You can bet your bottom dollar that Landor had a hand in designing new and innovative ways to improve the AIS from the inside out, all the while keeping one eye on how each facet could entice corporate investment. Whether it be the streamlining of an internal process or just creating a more aesthetically pleasing work environment for employees to get excited about, rebranding a corporate giant is not just about designing a new logo for the sake of change. Cultural changes may not be on display for critique but they play a silent and very important role in underpinning the visual aspect of the brand – the logo. The logo has to encapsulate the new brand promise and immediately communicate this to the consumer/potential investor.
Since AIS aimed to attract more sponsors for its athletes, Landor realised it needed to position itself as not only a top training facility, but also as an appealing partner for corporations. Landor crafted the brand promise Bold intent to reignite excitement about Australian sport.” – Landor Associates
In the case of the AIS, it wanted the public to recognise that it was taking a fresh, new and exciting direction forward and it was relevant, modern and innovative. I’ve studied rebranding and corporate identity changes for quite a while now and most well executed design programs have helped businesses reap exceptional results. Where businesses have either hit the wall performance-wise or they have a stale public perception, a thoughtful rebrand that approaches design holistically can provide enormous value, change fortunes and change lives. According to Australian Sports Commission CEO Simon Hollingsworth, the AIS will enjoy “significantly more revenue” as a direct result of the brand overhaul. The fact that the $500,000 rebrand was a drop in the ocean in comparison to its forecasted revenue seems to have been lost on the naysayers. Another good example of an effective rebrand is Balance Accountants UK (formerly Rogers and Co). The company felt disconnected from its existing brand, which it felt did not represent the identity and vision of its current team. So after detailed analysis, Balance Accountants UK undertook a complete rebrand with design firm The Engine Room Design Co. Ltd. After the rebrand, Balance Accounts UK saw: – a net profit gain of a whopping 500 per cent in the first year after rebrand; – a 390 per cent increase in turnover generated by new clients in that same year; – a rise of 20 per cent in net value per customer; and – a 50K+ GBP of new business generated from existing clients alone compared to 0 GBP the year before, as a direct result of the rebranding of existing services. And how much did they pay I hear you ask? 16,677 GBP! Try telling Balance Accountants UK that the exercise in rebranding was a “waste of money”.   Sources: Sydney Morning Herald | WARC | Landor Associates