I saw a really interesting TV programme a while back.

It featured the designers Richard Seymour and Dick Powell.

They had been asked to design a toilet.

Armitage Shanks, the manufacturers, had commissioned something they wanted to take pride of place in their new catalogue.

So Powell and Seymour did what all the best thinkers do.

They started upstream.

If they were going to come up with a better solution they needed to investigate, and possibly redefine, the problem.

So they found about the different sorts of waste matter it would have to shift.

The different water pressures that were available.

The amount of water that was realistically usable.

Then they looked at materials.

They compared pressure-forming against casting.

Metal against plastic, and both against ceramic.

They factored in hygiene, ease of use, cost of manufacture, installation, storage, longevity, and comfort.

At the end of the exercise they went to present to the management of Armitage Shanks.

They unveiled their design and explained all the benefits.

The management were horrified.

They said, “This doesn’t look anything like a traditional toilet.”

Richard Seymour said, “No, this is much better.”

The management said, “You don’t understand. This doesn’t look anything like a traditional toilet.”

Seymour said, “Of course not, you asked us to design a new toilet.’

The management said, “Yes, but we only wanted you to DESIGN it. We didn’t want you to revolutionise it.”

Richard Seymour went quiet.

Then he turned to Dick Powell an he said, “I think it’s a communication problem.”

Dick Powell said, “Yes. When they said they wanted us to DESIGN a toilet, they actually meant they wanted us to RESTYLE a toilet.”

Richard Seymour whispered, “Basically, what they want is a tarted-up version of the same old solution they’ve always had.”

So Seymour and Powell went away and put a few new curves on the traditional toilet design.

Making it look a bit more fashionable, but otherwise unchanged.

They brought it back to Armitage Shanks and the management were thrilled.

The client said, “Now that’s what we wanted: a new design.’

Armitage Shanks began manufacturing it.

And it received pride of place in their new catalogue.

So it was a language problem.

The client thought design meant the same as style.

But to creative problem-solvers, of course, it’s very different.

Redesign is fundamental and radical.

Whereas restyle is superficial and cosmetic.

We have the same sort of language problem in advertising.

No client can bring themselves to say, “I want the same thing everyone else is doing, just tarted up a bit.”

They obviously can’t say that, so they say, “I want a new exciting solution. Just go wild”

But of course, that usually isn’t what’s wanted at all.

Which is why we need an interpreter.

And that’s exactly what the best account men are.

They take a client brief and translate it into language the creatives cannot misinterpret.

The creatives may not like it, but least they’ll know what they’re supposed to be doing.


And a smaller argument with the account man at the beginning of the process is a lot better than a bigger argument with the client at the end of it.