Creativity breeds within a re-energised industry

Rarely has there been so much change in design as we are currently seeing. Design Week’s 2003 Top 100 Consultancy Survey, published on 29 May, will indicate last year’s massive shifts at the top end of the industry, but already this year there have been other significant shifts across the board, not least news this week of Paul Stead’s departure from Cordiant Communications Group (see News, page 3).

Inevitably, we’ve seen the high-powered start-ups that result from an economic squeeze. As bigger groups feel the pinch, key players walk, voluntarily or otherwise, and a new tier of groups, with new visions, is born.

The year kicked off with the beleaguered Interbrand’s international creative director Marksteen Adamson going it alone, for example. Then came news of a defection from Wolff Olins as Robbie Laughton, Dan Bobby, Dan Rowe and Paul Shriever set up Dave.

Then there are the failures, which leave staff confused as principals find themselves miraculously in employment elsewhere. Last September the industry was shocked as Basten Greenhill Andrews went into voluntary liquidation and directors Tim Greenhill and John McCarron joined Citigate Lloyd Northover. Then, in December, as Rodney Fitch & Co went down, its founder, Rodney Fitch, moved to Portland Design to build its overseas business.

Fortunately, that move did not stop former Rodney Fitch & Co employee Mark Harper from winning a commendation in the Design Week Awards for the Smiths of Smithfield beer packs he designed, but it did cause bad blood between Fitch and other former staff.

We hope that this week’s news of the imminent demise of retail group Rawls & Co will have a better outcome as the Echochamber retail intelligence offer separates from the interiors business (see News).

Happier altogether is the split between Harper Mackay’s directors, which started in January when David Harper quit. It appears he had outgrown the architectural practice that lists top hotelier Ian Schrager and many a London ad agency among its clients.

The birth this week of Mak Architects, with three former Harper Mackay directors in charge, draws that saga to a close (see News). But on the face of it at least, it appears to have suited all concerned.

By changing the name and with plans to shift location, the team is taking the opportunity to rethink its business. Ken Mackay maintains a business should be like his dining table, with people from all aspects of a project coming together as equals to talk. It remains to be seen whether Mak achieves this goal, an aim that has so far eluded so many. But the approach is the stuff that creativity is made of and provides a useful model.

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