Summer 1995

We’re in bras, lamps and breakfast cereal

Today’s corporation is very different from its predecessors. But the identities devised by designers are failing to mirror the changes

Corporations have changed. They look and act differently today to the way they did when mass production was at its height. The ‘general’ is on the decline and the ‘specific’ has come to the fore, as consumers expect and demand products and services tailored to their individual needs. Now just a not-so-fond memory, the centralised, monolithic, inflexible corporation has been replaced by an organisation that is decentralised, diversified, customer-driven, flexible and team-oriented. Well, that is the theory anyway.

The driving force behind this fundamental shift is technology. Computing is just the latest agent of sweeping change: electronic mail, laptops, networking and multimedia presentations are some of the growing number of computer-based technologies which are allowing today’s corporation to become that new, flexible organisation.

The design world is, of course, affected by, and contributing to, these developments. Industrial designers are busy integrating computing and communication functions into all sorts of products (self-diagnostic copiers that call the repair person before they break down, for instance), while office designers are grappling with the challenge of incorporating ever-chaning technologies into an already complex workplace. Graphic designers have probably been the most affected by computer technology, as their traditional means of creation and production, and the media used to transmit their work, have all been transformed.

Corporate identity consultants – a very visible and important sector within graphic design – have taken computer technology on board along with the rest of us. What they have not yet done, though, is respond significantly to the changes affecting large, complex organisations - their traditional patrons. If today’s big corporation is a different animal to its predecessor, why then have we not seen new approaches to identity design which mirror that change?

First published in Eye no. 17 vol. 5 1995

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.