The year 2000 must surely go down in the design annals as the year the world went acquisition crazy, with global marketing services groups buying with a vengeance, redrawing the map of design ownership. The real winners have been a new generation of design millionaires (on paper at least), who never suspected there would one day be big money in the business for which they have such passion.
Much activity has come from the US, with groups as diverse as digital giant Razorfish and events specialist Jack Morton buying into rivals. The Scandinavian push predicted after the deal last year between Sweden’s Icon Medialab and MetaDesign London- renamed this week Icon Brandlab – has yet to materialise.
Among the biggest surprises was WPP Group’s takeover of creative supergroup The Partners, making it a cousin of branding group Landor Associates, which WPP had already acquired through its takeover of US advertising-led conglomerate Young & Rubicam. Fitch, bought last year by Lighthouse Global Network, meanwhile found itself in new ownership when Cordiant Communications Group bought LGN, making 1980s Fitch breakaway PSD Associates its stablemate. Bamber Forsyth is now also in the group – and so it goes on. Only Wolff Olins and digital mini-empire Deepgroup remain as key, creatively driven independents, with both implying they’re not for sale.
But for all this activity, 2000 won’t be remembered for great work. It had its moments, though the design successes have largely been small, craft-led jobs. The only big identity to raise temperatures was Landor’s work for BP – and they were raised largely in anger at an opportunity missed. Interiors has seen some highs – notably the Science Museum’s Wellcome Wing with its cast of thousands – while Tate Modern and the London Eye have been hailed as architectural triumphs. But these tower above some mediocre stuff. Sir Norman Foster’s Millennium Bridge still wobbles, while the Dome, the Government’s millennium flagship, has been dubbed a failure.
So how can we convert that creative energy that has gone into some fairly innovative business deals into visual creativity? We look to the likes of WPP stablemates The Partners and screen graphics star Lambie-Nairn to lead the way at the top end of the corporate tree, but there is much still to be done to make great design synonymous with big business. We can but hope, meanwhile, that public exposure to design courtesy of the “Two Dicks” at Seymour Powell will have a positive influence on clients.
These are not easy goals to achieve, but we’d welcome your views on how best to approach them. Food for thought over the Christmas break – have a good one.