Rich pickings

One of the first big people moves of the year was the decision by Fitch’s managing director, Tim Greenhalgh, to relinquish control of the consultancy to become the network’s chief creative director. Much later, in September, Tim Watson was appointed by Fitch as its new managing director. In February, Interbrand snapped up Rune Gustafson as its new UK chief executive, to replace John Allert, who joined McLaren Group as group head of brands. On the client side, in the first quarter of the year Alyson Jakes was appointed by Tesco as head of design, to replace Jeremy Lindley, who quit the previous year. At the London Development Agency, Richelle Harun, former programme development manager at the Design Council, was taken on as senior design manager. Management changes at Wolff Olins were made in the run-up to the Olympics 2012 branding, including the appointment of Karl Heiselman, its US chief executive, as worldwide chief executive, who made further senior moves behind the scenes. Harry Rich moved from his position as the Design Council’s deputy chief executive to become chief executive of Enterprise Insight. Identica appointed The Body Shop global creative director Franco Bonadio as its new chief executive, following the departure of the consultancy’s founder, Michael Peters. ‹

By critics it was panned as an embarrassment, a disaster, visually confusing or something that resembled Lisa Simpson carrying out a lewd act, while its creators and supporters called it bold, deliberately spirited and unexpectedly dissonant. Whatever the view, the Wolff Olins-designed 2012 branding caused the biggest design stir of the year.

The branding was launched in June at a grand ceremony in London and just hours later it had received widespread criticism as well as calls and petitions for the logo to be redesigned. The national and international press picked up on the story, as a leaked e-mail to Design Week from Wolff Olins chairman Brian Boylan to his staff urged them not to get despondent as the work would soon be revealed in all its glory.

The consultancy’s executive creative director Patrick Cox finally spoke out about the design and explained that he was ‘shocked at the intensity of the reaction’, but was nonetheless optimistic that it would eventually be accepted.

If 2006 was the year when design’s role in halting the onslaught of climate change was recognised, then 2007 has been the year of experimentation as to how those changes can be effected.

In October, Designs of the Time, organised by Robert O’Dowd and John Thackara, promised to set a shining example of urban sustainability with projects that saw designers assisting public bodies, schools and organisations throughout the North East to realise ways of producing their own energy and organic food.

Despite the best of intentions, however, questions about the integrity of the Town Meal project in Middlesbrough were raised by journalists at the event.

The Design Council’s sustainability efforts also came under the spotlight when, in October, Design Week revealed that the council had taken the decision to axe the post of sustainability project leader, leaving it without a dedicated sustainability function. The Design Council responded by saying it had ’embedded’ sustainability into all of its programmes, though the incident prompted a wider debate on leadership of sustainability issues.

The Royal Institute of British Architects’ move to launch its own sustainable design guide for the construction industry went further to underline the lack of leadership in the design industry.

A clutch of consultancies, organisations and design authorities have over the past year held sustainable breakfast talks, discussions and conferences in an effort to demonstrate that the tide is turning in a sustainable direction.

The plethora of environmental branding, air mile stickers and carbon footprint information, however, has prompted some to say that Green is well and truly washing over us.

Within the packaging sector, the message of reducing and reusing has resounded, prompting new concepts for higher value manufactured materials, as well as new structures. Teresa Roviras Design & Creative’s milk pouch made using chalk, Greenbottle’s Marybelle milk container made from paper pulp, Marks & Spencer’s cornstarch sandwich packs and Grolsch’s lightweight glass bottles have all attempted to address sustainability issues.

Accessories designer Anya Hindmarch’s I’m not a Plastic Bag canvas shopper launched to a fanfare in February. With bids on Ebay reaching up to £500 for the Hindmarch design, the incident did as much to kick-start a brief fashion craze as it did to raise awareness about the campaign’s sustainability aims. If the market for digital went ballistic in 2006, then in 2007 it went supersonic.

Web 2.0 and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace saw their values soar, while Internet Protocol Television diversified the offering of traditional telecoms groups such as Orange, Virgin Media and Smallworld. Apple finally unveiled its iPhone in November, seducing swathes of gadget lovers across the UK with its sleek style and intuitive interface design.

During 2007, there was also a shift in attitude towards digital as more than just a medium. Consultancies including Art & Com and All of Us demonstrated how environmental design can incorporate digital technology to enhance visitor experiences at Berlin’s Jewish Museum and West Bromwich’s The Public Gallery.

The Pet Shop Boys, long a champion of graphic design, embraced digital in September, with the launch of their first interactive pop promo, designed by The Rumpus Room – the latest venture from Tom Roope of Tomato.

As a discipline, digital was represented at the London Design Festival in September with a dedicated day – Dynamo London. Predatory interest from the marketing networks created a buoyant and optimistic market for digital, which clients just couldn’t deal with on their own. US digital groups like Framfab (for the first time) and Siegel Gale (for the second) turned up in the UK prepared for business, while multidisciplinary groups like Elmwood, Roundel and Love all opened digital arms this year. The more entrepreneurial ones like Nucleus and Hulger sought to launch their own technologies.

Staff numbers increased (both freelance and full-time) across the digital board, and some groups, like Poke in New York, even took steps overseas. Valuations of digital groups, needless to say, topped out at about ten to 12 times pre-tax profits, making digital the design discipline of the discerning for 2007.

The design world is busy deciding whether China, India and Russia are a threat to British consultancies or whether they represent a rich seam of new clients.

On the one hand, Red Bee Media proved its faith in the Chinese market by opening an office in Beijing in September, and this year Russia has provided a great deal of work for British designers, particularly in its telecoms and banking sectors. Start Creative and Judge Gill won a joint contract to rebrand Russia’s biggest mobile phone operator, MTS, swiftly followed by Above Consultancy, which revamped MTS’s main competitor Beeline’s stores, while Wolff Olins designed its identity.

On the other hand, evidence that traffic runs both ways came when Moscow-based group Mildberry moved to London in January, consolidating its UK business by buying up part of Loman Street Studio. Former vice-president Bill Wallsgrove left in protest.

Wallsgrove characterises Russia as an entrepreneurial nation containing powerful individuals. Jonathan Ive believes that in China there is the will but not the skill to create goods to Western standards. Looking to the future, in January 2008 Rodney Fitch will describe India’s welcome of British designers in a seminar entitled Why India, Why Now?

Heatherwick Studio beat off competition from Zaha Hadid, John McAslan & Partners and Marks Barfield Architects to build the British pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 – an opportunity to parade British creativity through one of China’s leading urban economies. ‹ Innovation has been a buzzword in design, business, engineering and technology circles, dominating Government reviews and reports over the past year.

Those such as the Sainsbury Review, which placed the Government’s policy on science and innovation under the spotlight, and the Creative Economy Programme, if to be taken seriously by the Brown Government, look set to have some effect on the UK’s economic agenda.

The search for a replacement Design Council chairman yielded a creative education champion, with the Rector of the University of the Arts London, Sir Michael Bichard, set to take the reins in 2008.

On the ground, the issue of innovation started to take effect in education quarters, with one of the biggest stories of the year being the launch of Design London, a multidisciplinary centre that combines the expertise of the Royal College of Art, Imperial College London and the Tanaka Business School. The designer of the future is T-shaped, with the horizontal bar representing deep, specialist knowledge, said RCA rector Sir Christopher Frayling.

Indeed, two years on from his review, Sir George Cox’s vision of multifaceted centres of excellence has begun to spring up around the UK, with Central St Martins Innovation and Coventry University Enterprises among those quietly working at integrating design into local businesses.

During the midsummer anniversary celebrations on London’s Exhibition Road, the RCA hosted a memorable lecture by Business Week’s Bruce Nussbaum. Ignorant designers and chief executives are the biggest obstacle facing innovation, he declared.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England Strategic Development Funding, regional development agencies and the National Endowment for Science and the Arts all played a role in funding innovation projects and centres of excellence.

In November, the Technology Strategy Board, sponsored by the Department for Universities, Innovation and Skills, entered the fray with the news that it was on the hunt for a consortium that will manage a Knowledge Transfer Network for the creative industries, including design. Its work looks set to carry through into next year. The centrepiece of the events calendar, the London Design Festival, kicked off this year in the newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank. Zaha Hadid opened the proceedings, followed by an enthusiastic Ken Livingstone, who not only took the opportunity to signal his allegiance to the creative community, but also pledged to help realise a new-look Design Museum.

The events scene is set to raise its IQ higher next year as a clutch of new conferences is announced.

In September, South Africa’s Ravi Naidoo told Design Week that he plans to organise a world creative conference in London late next year. Also mooted is the World Creative Economy Forum, an evolution of the defunct World Creative Forum that was organised in conjunction with the LDF.

Debate was also rife at Dott 07 – Designs of the Time – which was based this year in the North East. Designers and the public alike engaged in an exploration of how Green issues are affecting design. Merger activity reached frenetic levels in the design world this year, particularly with respect to independent digital specialists, many of which were targeted by big agency networks anxious to redefine their propositions in the fast-changing technological age.

Most prolific was the Loewy acquisition of Seymour Powell in September, which saw the product design group join a string of recent acquisitions that includes Williams Murray Hamm and The Team. Loewy also snapped up Epoch Design in July. SAS signed an ambitious deal with French marketing communications behemoth Publicis, which now puts the brand and corporate communications consultancy at the hub of the network of UK groups called Publicis Consultants UK. As well as SAS, the design and advertising to PR venture includes ad agency Masius, Publicis Consultants PR and Carre Noir London.

Elsewhere, Fitch acquired a stake in Dubai design group GSCS, while Roundel acquired the five-strong design group Natural Associates in July. Brand strategy group Clear Ideas was also acquired by M&C Saatchi for £18.4m. Other deals, particularly in the digital arena, are expected to bear fruit in early 2008, ahead of the anticipated hikes mooted from changes to the Capital Gains Tax regime. l

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