One of the hot topics emerging in design last year was the role of independent consultancies in an increasingly merged global business. Prompted by news that James Beveridge had quit The Partners, largely because of its deal with US advertising conglomerate Young & Rubicam and subsequent ownership by marketing services giant WPP Group, to join CDT Design (DW 8 November 2001), the call rang out for independents to stand proud and work together to retain their solo status.
Beveridge and others of like mind played up the link between the independent groups with fewer masters to serve in terms of financial performance and the creative quality of their design work. You can argue that the bigger groups win bigger jobs where creative thinking is more likely to manifest itself in the underlying strategy. And that groups like The Partners for which design is part of the culture are not likely to lose design creativity overnight. But the independents do have a point.
A welcome move now is that some of the best independent regional branding and graphics groups are going for national spread, while their bigger cousins play the global field. Leeds group Elmwood, long established as a national design brand, led the way in 2000 by setting up The Nursery in London (DW 1 December 2000).
Late last year Ben Casey’s Manchester-based group The Chase followed suit, establishing a small London presence under creative director Harriet Devoy, formerly with award-winning independent group Johnson Banks, and with senior designer Steve Royle, who joined from the Manchester office this week. Now Glasgow-based consultancy 999 has also moved into London, adding a third office to its empire, having already set up in Manchester.
Of course, the idea of opening up in London isn’t new. Scottish group Navy Blue took this route in the late 1990s, Huddersfield digital network Attik started to build a global empire in this way and a couple of years ago Leicester product and branding group Jones Garrard tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to launch a new London venture, called Think, focusing on the strategic side of branding projects.
It is an interesting development nonetheless, coming at a time when design is arguably going through a downturn, and is driven in all the recent cases by client expectations and the chance of new work.
The move can only swell the strength of the industry, creating opportunities for a new tier of creative leaders. It also gives global clients seduced into believing that London is the only place to find great design a wider choice of established consultancies with a strong track record in creativity.