The problems with design in Birmingham


Being a Birmingham based agency, we have to work just that little bit harder and go that little bit further for clients than the London agencies do.

Birmingham has always been misrepresented within the creative industry. From the late 80’s to the early 90’s, the region basically had the housing and car sectors covered but all of the other major brands and industries were located outside the city.

Birmingham Agencies Vs London Agencies

The main problem was the attraction of the bright lights of London. Clients were more than happy to hop on the train, shoot down to London for their lunch time meeting with their large advertising agency to discuss their project (the fact that they were effectively paying for their own lunch was irrelevant). They could have a walk around the snazzy offices, have four Account Handlers look after them and then get the train home in time for tea. I know this because I did this for clients when I worked in London.

However, if you were based in the north, then a trip to London and back was a bit of a stretch and so, a number of agencies appeared in Manchester. Aside from Scotland, London and Manchester has certainly established themselves as the two big locations for the creative industry.

The problem is, Birmingham is the country’s second city. We have a lot to offer - just ask Trevor Beattie (I know he works in London, but he’s a brummie). He said in the Birmingham Post, "It's unbelievable now isn't it... Brum's cooler than London and London hates that.”

The city has invested heavily in its growth, and is a very different place to just 10 years ago. For eating out, entertaining, sport, fashion and shopping, Birmingham pretty much ticks all the boxes now and has a very vibrant underground creative scene - just go and pay a visit to the Custard Factory, or the lofts in the Jewellery Quarter to see what I mean.

It is up to us to demonstrate to the rest of the UK that we’ve got what it takes to compete with the big boys/girls (I wouldn’t want to be politically incorrect). I think this can be delivered by providing best practice and giving the clients as much information as they can handle.

Trust us, we're designers...

I constantly go on about the importance of meeting the brief and giving reason and justification to each and every step of the design process. A big problem with design is that the client often likes to think that they are a stifled art director/designer, and they have a very clear idea in their head of what they want. Basically, they want you to realise their vision, even if it’s to the detriment of the brand or project. When you present the concepts, if you can give reasons for why you chose the colour and that particular font etc, then it is much more difficult to argue against than providing a purely subjective response of, “I don’t like yellow, I prefer grey”. If you can demonstrate why yellow is the correct choice then on most occasions I have found clients respond, “Oh OK, I see why, I still prefer grey, but yes, yellow is more relevant.” This is not meant to sound arrogant, it is simply meant to communicate the relevance of our industry. We are visual problem solvers and are employed as such, having gone through a rigorous education, gaining various qualifications as well as industry experience, repeatedly delivering successful results. It also stops this impression of, “Well, it’s just making pretty pictures, - I’ve got Word Art, look, it fills the text in rainbow colours!”

If we are going to raise ourselves above the heady heights of London and Manchester, then Birmingham has to set it’s sights on higher standards than the industry often portrays in itself, which is slightly greasy, shallow and self indulgent.

We should make a point of giving the clients the best advice possible, and it should be honest and be relevant to the client, not the agency. The double-glazing salesman tactic only works in the short-term; the long relationships are built on trust and a mutual understanding.

I have found that by taking time to explain to clients the processes involved at all stages of design including print, it overcomes a lot of questions and pitfalls on projects, the client is far more understanding and the jobs always go smoother.

But the biggest area we need to make sure is successful is the delivery of IDEAS, not just pretty design, but work with substance. There is a lot of work out there that fails to deliver on this and doesn’t hold up to any degree of scrutiny. We need to innovate and set the style and trend, not adapt and mimic everyone else. This obviously isn’t just down to us, it does take the clients to buy in on the idea and their confidence and trust in their agency is essential, but it only takes one to do it and a degree of success will be born from it and it soon becomes shirttails. The following year people are prepared to go that extra 20% and then the following year an extra 40% and so on.

Birmingham has all the tools it needs to win awards, lure big accounts to the city and open peoples eyes to the wealth of creative talent that’s available. As a certain famous Meerkat would say….’SIMPLES’

How else could you go from Compare the Market to Compare the Meerkat!

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