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Little clients become big clients

A while ago, I attended a 3-day masterclass at Swinburne University. The attraction was the chance to hear from three great designers – Ken Cato, David Lancashire and Brian Sadgrove.

Today I was reminded of a story Sadgrove told about a branding project his studio had recently done for a small pasta-making company.

I could be wrong, but my memory says that the start-up company was Latina Pasta – two guys working from a small factory in Thomastown.

The branding has always been one of my favourites in the supermarket – a red and white awning above the word Latina written in a fresh script.

The take home point I remember was that Sadgrove didn’t distinguish between designing for a small or large company – he believes the design takes the same amount of time regardless of the size of the client. And needing the same amount of time meant that it needed the same amount of budget.

The only cost saving measure was in copyright research. While they knew their design was original, Sadgrove usually conducted extensive copyright research to ensure someone else in the world hadn’t designed the exact same solution. To save money they didn't commission the research in this instance –it was buyer beware.

Their clients were obviously very good pasta makers because after a few years, Latina was bought out by a larger company. Since then the company has been bought and sold a few times and the branding is now owned by an international company whose 2014 sales totaled US $10.6Billion.

Who was to know those guys would be that successful?

I was reminded of this story when I read a recent article in Fast Company. It was about a pro bono branding project by Paula Scher (of Pentagram New York’s office) for the Conservancy – a public building in Madison Square Park.

Sher did the signage of the Conservancy, and then when it was decided to build a permanent burger stand within the building, she took on that as well. It was in her interest to take on the proejct to ensure that branding worked with her signage. And she did it for free, since it was an extension of the original pro bono public building project.

Soon after the building opened, the burger business became a success and commissioned Sher to produce a second wave of branding that included more signage, bags and uniforms. This time it was paid work but in her words ‘not well-paid, mind you, (as) they only had one outlet’.

Fast forward and in February 2015 this one outlet is now a multinational burger chain with restaurants in Moscow, Istanbul and Dubai. They have just launched on the stock exchange as a US$1.6 billion public company.

Sher is philosophical about the project. ‘… in fairness, no one had an idea how successful it would become’.

There’s no moral to this story – it's just an observation that we never really know how successful (or not) our original clients will be. Perhaps the take home point is to ensure that every design is your best design because you never really know where it will end up.

Carol Mackay

Carol co-founded Mackay Branson design in 1984. Since then she has used design to package complex messages into bite-sized chunks of information that are easy to understand and digest.

She does that with clients in the corporate, cultural, government and not for profit sectors.