SBHD: Last week we concentrated on design groups with eight or more designers, so this week it’s the turn of the smaller groups – many of which are showing impressive results in their efficiency and productivity
There are fewer consultancies this year among those we have in the past dubbed “the creative core” – the smaller, often specialist groups more typical of the UK design industry. It’s not that there are fewer creative hot shops or start-up firms around, it is more likely due to the fact that smaller design teams qualified for the actual Top 100 listing this year (DW 7 April).
The way we’ve ranked the smaller groups listed here uses the same rule applied to last week’s larger concerns: all are rated according to the number of full-time designers employed, rather than according to income, profitability or creativity. But a shift in policy on how the listings were compiled this year, excluding the big architectural firms, print shops and shopfitters, took out a few former contenders for the top slots, leaving the field open for more pure design groups. This meant that 103 groups qualified for last week’s main listing, the qualifying factor being that they employed a minimum of eight designers (against last year’s requirement of ten designers or more).
Ranking high among the smaller consultancies featured this week are branding specialists Identica – Michael Peters’ 28-strong graphics group with its seven designers – and its rival Tutssels (again with a design team of seven). Both consultancies are known for top quality work, bearing out our claims that some of the best groups in terms of creativity appear in this second chart.
Also up there with seven designers are Radley Yeldar, one-time Design Week Award-winner for the 1992 C & J Clark annual report, respected Bristol graphics group Proctor & Stevenson, and packaging specialist Brewer Riddiford.
One notch down, with six designers, you find the likes of The Green House and Edinburgh consultancy EH6, showing the strength of graphics groups among the smaller players.
In fact, you don’t find many non-graphics groups here – and certainly very few claiming real multidisciplinary skills.
Of course, there are exceptions, including Parr Interiors, exhibition and interiors specialist Adam Rawls with its team of five designers, exhibition group 2LK and the tiny teams at Bright and White Design and CM Design.
Meanwhile, the three-strong Zachary Design, headed by Chartered Society of Designers president Stefan Zachary, is the only one bold enough to claim every discipline listed in the questionnaire. But then you have to remember that when he set up in 1993, following his sudden departure from the then ailing WPP subsidiary McColl, Zachary committed to networking with independent designers on projects rather than running a hefty full-time team.
Many other groups in this section probably supplement their skills through the use of freelances or by networking with other groups. That trait is, unfortunately, something that our survey doesn’t pick up.
Being smaller doesn’t mean that a group can’t be profitable. Last week’s productivity chart, taken across all consultancy survey entrants and based on fee-income per full-time designer, was led by Blueberry, which has only two designers on its nine-strong staff, and featured Identica (seven designers out of 28 staff) and Blue Marlin, with only three designers on its six-strong team.
More importantly, we charted efficiency, based for the first time on design fee-income per full-time staff member. And once more the small groups are showing a few of the more profligate big groups how it is done.
Tutssels came joint first in the efficiency tables, alongside identity group Siegel & Gale and packaging specialist PI Design, notching up Ãº113 000 a head for its 12-strong team. The oddly named QED Quite Extraordinary Design was just behind, with Ãº112 000 a head for its team of eight people. First Impression – exactly the same size as Tutssels – made it to joint seventh with Tatham Pearce at Ãº100 000 a head. And Blue Marlin held anchor position in tenth slot with Ãº98 000 a head.
As before, we have divided our tables into groups with five or more designers and groups with fewer than five designers. The former are often middling sized groups – such as Identica and Tutssels – with design as part of a bigger consultancy picture. The under-fives generally give a different view – these tend to be tiny studios devoted purely to design work where a big brochure commission or exhibition job can virtually double turnover for the year.
Looking first at consultancies in the upper band, the 43 groups with between five and seven designers on the payroll collectively employ 243 designers out of 485 staff. Even here, designers account for 50 per cent of total staff. Collective turnover in this grouping is just over Ãº42m, with design fee-income reaching close to Ãº21m.
These consultancies project a bullish 15 per cent growth over the coming year, very much in line with the expectations of the bigger groups featured in last week’s Top 100.
Lower down, the under-fives employ a total of 136 designers out of 265 staff. Collective turnover is almost Ãº19m and design fees account for just under Ãº10m of this. Projections are for a massive 26 per cent growth, but you have to remember that one job can make a huge difference to a tiny consultancy, and three groups in this section – To The Point, Bristol group Warner Associates and two-strong Bright and White Design – are looking to 100 per cent growth apiece.
Few groups in this section quote amounts of more than six figures for turnover or design fees. The exceptions are 2LK Design (which patently includes exhibition contracting in its turnover), Grandfield, recent winner of the
Catvian Telecoms job (DW 31 March), which, with only three designers out of 24 staff, clearly takes on other than design work), and Blueberry Design.
It is hard to make performance judgements at the smaller end of the industry. As we have already said, a single job or even one member of staff can make a great difference to finances in percentage terms.
We have though ventured a few pointers, highlighting design groups that have done particularly well this year or whose figures are significantly down on those submitted for Design Week’s 1994 consultancy survey.
You can draw your own conclusions from the four tables here. But two to watch must be graphics and exhibitions group Robinson Bamford, reporting a 300 per cent rise in design fees this year and a 50 per cent increase in staff, and Hildebrand Design, with fees up 108 per cent and staff boosted by 50 per cent. Both are tiny – Robinson Bamford has three designers out of five staff, Hildebrand three out of four – but both are to be congratulated for their great effort. Long may it continue. m
Design Week’s 1995 Consultancy Survey was compiled and analysed with tremendous help from Ian Cochrane, chairman and chief executive of management and performance consultancy Ticegroup.