State of Inspiration

Article excerpt

What is it that makes the best of US corporate literature so outstanding? David Stocks looks on in admiration

As corporate literature designers we often look outside our local market for inspiration. And no place has been as inspirational to us as the US. Some of the corporate communications work created there is outstanding, particularly the annual reports selected in the annual, US-based Mead competition, which showcases the best reports produced for a typically diverse range of clients.

We have followed the Mead competition with keen interest over recent years. We always receive the catalogue of selected works - which is itself beautifully designed - and write to the winning companies to request copies. We are never disappointed, but I don't think it would be unfair to say that their best is better than our best in this field. So what is it that makes their work so appealing?

Certainly the production values of American work we see are very high, but we too have some good printers, writers and photographers. It's really the maturity of their thinking that sets them apart. Some of the work we have seen, particularly from the West Coast, displays a quality of thinking that says, "If you are a company of vision or stature, or one that believes it's the best, then whispering it will not prove a successful method of communication." They show a genuinely imaginative approach toward demonstrating the company's capabilities, strengths and corporate vision.

Perhaps the high standard of work in the US comes out of the competitive nature of the country's business markets. In Britain, however, it's not unusual to receive a brief that is a modified version of the one the previous year. Sometimes it's because the business has not lived up to expectations and senior management wants to play down the company strategy in case it is held as a hostage to fortune. This is like saying, "It's been a bad year, so let's hide it until things get better", rather than "Let's use our communications to explain all the things we are doing about it".

From our, albeit limited, experience of working in the US - and from feedback from colleagues who have worked there - there is an acute understanding of the need to limit the number of messages in their literature, but to put them well. While a client here might say, "There are five parts of our business which we want to reflect in our report", US companies tend to select one strong theme which encapsulates the personality of the business and its objectives. …