To balance the financial picture presented earlier in this supplement, we’ve compiled a chart documenting the creative performance of interaction consultancies, and it shows specialists - alongside ad agencies and clients’ in-house teams - competing strongly with mainstream design groups
Our first league table charting creativity in interaction design bears little resemblance to the more comprehensive Creative Survey chart we publish each autumn. Multi-faceted design groups such as The Partners, invariably a chart-topper in the main Creative Survey, and Start Creative find themselves displaced by purely digital groups such as AKQA, Preloaded, Sennep and Magnetic North, and ad-related agencies such as Fallon and Wieden & Kennedy make a stronger showing.
There are a couple of reasons for this, not least the basis on which we made our trawl. Though the Design Week Awards and D&AD Awards are constants across all our creative surveys, in this instance we have included more specialist schemes such as the US-based Webby Awards and the BIMA Awards, following guidance by key players in the interaction world.
Interaction design has, though, become the bridge between design and advertising. Poke co-founder Simon Waterfall - now of Fray - stressed this point when he was D&AD president a couple of years ago, which is perhaps why that organisation has added a third category of interaction design into its traditional rotation of presidents between advertising and design, with All of Us co-founder Simon Sankarayya living this out as current incumbent in the role. And this is also why groups such as Mother-affiliated Poke, AKQA, Fallon, Wieden & Kennedy and LBI London make into the interaction charts.
While design groups may dabble with advertising, these ad-focused agencies take on interaction head on, often employing in-house teams that are bigger than the average design consultancy. It may have started with Web design, but, as digital campaigning has grown, ad agencies have led the way with virals and other digitally driven marketing ploys, and integrated content for mobiles and other hand-held devices more readily than design groups.
You could argue that ad agency budgets are still bigger, despite the cutbacks of recession, and their clout with clients greater. It may be, though, that this relatively new generation of players thinks differently and is nimbler than more traditional design and advertising practitioners.
There is also the store that adland puts by awards. If, as an advertising creative, you win a D&AD Award, the perceived wisdom is that you merit an immediate pay rise and become a hot property in the agency world. Awards are therefore very important to the ad community - a part of the culture - and ad agencies are keen to enter them.
Design groups, with their more limited funds and smaller egos, are generally more modest in their spending on entering awards - and that is as true of specialist prize schemes such as the Webbies and BIMAs as of other creative awards. But if you don’t enter, how can you hope to win?
The interaction listing also throws up more in-house teams at the top of the chart than we see in the broader Creative Survey. It is no surprise to find the BBC there, given that much of its work is onscreen - and, therefore, digital - but it is interesting to see it overtake Red Bee Media, its one-time design arm until the sale to Australia-based financial group Macquarie in 2005.
TV is also represented by Channel 4 - whose score includes wins by in-house team 4 Creative - and Welsh language programme provider S4C, both of which are consistent in the generation of great work, appropriate to their audiences. Meanwhile The Guardian, with its seminal online news site, completes the set for the media.
Given its overall success in creative awards of all kinds - and its policy of entering them - it isn’t surprising to see Apple make the grade in this chart. This year’s D&AD Black Pencil for the Apple website was influential in securing its place, but hasn’t been its only digital win.
It is particularly interesting to see Tate in the charts, flying the flag for the cultural sector. With the growing importance of interaction in the gallery and museumworld, we might expect to see more national institutions represented in the interaction awards. The Science Museum in London, for example, is renowned for its digital portrayals of complex ideas in science and is no slouch when it comes to creative award wins.
It could be, though, that interactive features aren’t singled out for separate entry, but come under the general umbrella of exhibition design - something we hope to address with the introduction of new interaction categories in this year’s Design Week Awards.
A key factor of the interaction world is the importance of technical back-up by way of programming and the like. While this is a creative activity, by focusing on the award schemes we have sought to exclude back-end work from the charts. It may become relevant for us to include it in this trawl in future years, but for now we are focusing on creative excellence in the look, feel and navigability of the work, be it a website or an installation.