You can spread your wings without a global network

With UK designers always on the lookout for new markets, is it any wonder that so many look abroad for their next commission? Trade missions set up by the British Council, Design Partners et al are popular with those seeking inroads overseas and the ventures have brought work for many.

Meanwhile, the likes of Elmwood and Lumsden Design Partnership have spread their wings – in Elmwood’s case with an Australian supermarket branding project, in LDP’s with a Russian retail job. Conran & Partners continues to grow in stature globally. To date this has been largely through architecture, but David Chaloner’s appointment as a director to boost the retail side is already paying off, with US-based Gap and a couple of other global retail players on the client list.

But while there are many pluses for groups that stay independent, working abroad can be tough. Without a global network to support them, senior managements face constant travel as clients demand their input into projects. Otherwise, the consultancy might establish a local ‘partnership’ with a like-minded group or set up an office. It is all very risky, though, and demanding of both time and energy.

But new markets emerging closer to home are yielding lucrative work. Take the Sainsbury’s bid to beat Asda and Tesco on the homewares front. C&P and Portland Design have both benefited from the By range (DW 7 October) and customers are now offered a great product range at a fraction of the price of branded rivals. We can expect to see more of this as supermarkets and high-street retailers find new ways to build custom in non-food areas.

Then there are museums. In the late 1990s they were a great source of design work as funding kicked in for Millennium-related projects. Now, as museums become more commercial in their thinking, there are more opportunities, and they are broader than ever.

The Science Museum, for example, moved into playground equipment last year, while the Victoria & Albert Museum has a massive programme for change, regardless of the demise of Daniel Libeskind’s contentious Spiral extension.

Meanwhile, Museum of London director Jack Lohman has been working with the National Museum of Kosovo to get its collection back following war in the Balkans. This, in turn, looks set to bring together museum directors in the Balkans to determine a cultural platform on which the new-look region can build. Design in its widest sense will inevitably be part of any strategy that ensues.

So new sources of work are out there, across all disciplines – and it doesn’t necessarily mean extensive travel. You just have to be astute to spot them.

Latest articles