Breaking the conventions of sector-led design

Breaking the conventions of sector-led design

13 May 2016

“Working in different industries can have a wonderfully liberating effect on designers’ thought processes”

When designing for a particular industry, it’s all too easy to conform to expectations. But what happens if you borrow some techniques from another, completely different sector? The results can be surprisingly effective. Jack Pearce, Company Director, Silk Pearce, shares his insight on making this process work, and discusses how designers can explore new and uncharted ways to transform their clients’ brands.

Working in different industries can have a wonderfully liberating effect on designers’ thought processes. They have the unique opportunity to apply the approach of one sector to another, creating a distinct and exciting brand image for a client that’s unlike anything else its industry has to offer.

Giving science shelf appeal

Even the most interesting businesses have been known to slip comfortably into a pigeonhole when it comes to their designs. That’s why, when visualising a science organisation, it’s easy to imagine images of test tubes and lab technicians, or white labels with blue text. By contrast, an arts organisation is seen as more people oriented and creative. Yet it’s possible for designs to draw on the experience of working for the arts when working in science.

Packaging, for example, is a type of design that works on an emotional level. When they see a product on the shelf in a shop, consumers either like it or they don’t. A customer will choose a bottle of hand soap, for instance, because they think it will look attractive in his or her bathroom. A designer can tap into that emotion – that desire to reach for something because it looks nice – regardless of industry.


Silk Pearce designed this notebook, which has the shelf appeal of a personal desk diary, for science and technology company Cambridge Cognition. Attractive style cues identify the brand and its role without the need for large, imposing logos or sterile images of microscopes.

It’s not always easy to convince the client to break away from familiar territory. So it’s important to convey how important ‘uniqueness’ is to a brand’s success.


Manufacturer of infection and contamination control products Tristel is another science-based organisation that’s not afraid to stand out from the crowd. While other companies continue to use the industrial-looking labels synonymous with the industry, Tristel takes a different view. When research revealed most of the company’s products were used by female infection-control nurses, Silk Pearce designers created an attractive brand image closer to those associated with consumer toiletries. The products’ visual appeal has been integral in encouraging hospital staff to adopt the products.

Stirring up emotion through illustration

The use of illustration is sometimes considered to be too casual for the healthcare sector. But clever illustrations can convey an unexpectedly sensitive message.


The Bridge Centre is a perfect example. The fertility clinic was the first of its kind in the UK, yet it has branched away from the traditional branding style of babies and Petri dishes. Its illustrated images evoke an emotional connection and express the clinic’s warm, welcoming values. The use of illustration as part of its branding has worked particularly well for The Bridge Centre, setting it apart from other fertility organisations and contributing to a significant increase in bookings.

Conveying the human side of business

Showing an organisation’s human side is the fastest way of making a connection, so every piece of design should reflect its personality. The formula is simple – design things people like, even if it means breaking with convention.


A recent hoardings design for development company Brookgate and its CB1 development – a new city quarter in Cambridge – is a prime example. Stepping away from traditional, grey hoardings that display intermittent logos or advertisements for office space, Silk Pearce used its experience in other industries to create something that’s not only visually appealing but which also shows the company’s personality.

The design is a row of giant books written by Cambridge University alumni such as Professor Stephen Hawking and Isaac Newton. But interspersed among them is the occasional book spine that subtly offers information on the features of the new development.

Unlike typical hoardings, which can be ugly and impersonal, the design attracted positive press and generated excitement in the project. It wasn’t easy to convince the organisation to take the risk. But it quickly proved itself to be worthwhile because it helped deliver something unexpected – a development company that connects with the local community.