Responsible Design

Passion, restraint and honesty show the value of good, responsible design.

Last week saw me take a couple of days out for a road trip to explore potential venues for our 10th birthday celebrations. Nothing hit the mark. Then my wife, sensing frustration, pinged me a wee note, ‘Fate has played a hand’ and a link to ‘The Dell.’

An old house with connected cottages in the Cairngorms was a million miles away from our initial thinking. In parts it’s pretty tired and rough around the edges – ‘Was this really the treat and memorable experience we wanted to give our team?’ From the moment Ross sat Chris and myself down at his kitchen table to enjoy some of his wife Polly’s freshly baked pancakes, we knew.

Honest. Genuine. Entrepreneurial. Hardworking & Enthusiastic. A good fit and a good start.

As he showed us around it also became apparent, without knowing it, that they were great designers. Using reclaimed materials and carefully chosen items to complement the original structures and features, they were slowly bringing the old and tired to life without ruining character and history. Craft was there too: a beautifully restored, reclaimed parquet floor making the most of an inexpensive and tired kitchen. Complemented by a lick of fresh paint, a wood burning stove and a tastefully selected IKEA lamp, you immediately felt at home.

It struck me how easy it would have been to leave be, spend nothing and hope for the best. Or on the other hand, to spend a fortune, rip out everything, ruin the character, over design and miss the mark. Responsible design is so much harder to pull off. In this case, no doubt driven by a limited budget, the integrity of the approach, to re-fresh and re-articulate whilst maintaining all that was still good, shone through in the execution, immediately engaging and building rapport.

Maybe what Ross & Polly are doing with The Dell connected with us because it reflects the broader challenges facing us as a team of designers: creating and invigorating brands. We have been faced with tired brands that need to evolve but the owners don’t want to spend, as either they are blind to the ever evolving world around them, or they fear that the brush of the ego driven design team will sweep all vestige of the past and present aside for something shinier.

So often good design is about being able to recognise what doesn't need to be changed. What has equity. We may not necessarily like it, but we have to realise that to the client and their customers it has great value. It’s too easy to obliterate the past purely out of design snobbery or the need for something new.

In three of our biggest and most recent branding programmes, we have recommended working with existing assets. Making sense of them rather than working against them, complementing and adding value to evolve into more meaningful experiences. In doing so, this responsible approach shines though, connecting instinctively with existing and fresh audiences in a much deeper way.

So thanks to Ross & Polly for reminding me, through their passion, restraint and honesty, of the value of good, responsible design. I knew it was the right thing to do.