It’s likely that this week’s Who Owns Whom feature will be one of the last in a series that has gained momentum over the past couple of years. A year ago it was hard to keep up with the pace of change in the design community as even hitherto independent stars The Partners and Wolff Olins merged with global marketing services giants WPP Group and Omnicom respectively.
Now the opposite situation applies and merger fever is at bay. Reports are of difficult times for the likes of Cordiant Communications Group, which mopped up PSD, BamberForsyth, Fitch and its Lighthouse Global Network colleagues, among other design interests, in a year-long buying spree. Meanwhile, questions have been raised about consultancies such as Omnicom’s Interbrand and Wolff Olins, given the number of redundancies there have been there.
Now the independents are fighting back, speaking out loud and proud about their status. Cynics might interpret the well-documented call to arms issued by CDT Design’s new director James Beveridge as a bid to be noticed by would-be buyers, but the ranks swelling behind him now suggest it isn’t the case.
This week we report that Allison Miguel has cast her lot in with Ziggurat, attracted as much by its independent status as by the challenge the role of executive creative director sets.
Keen to make the design team ‘creatively fit’, following the example founder Bernard Gormley had already tried to set, Miguel says she is looking forward to her ‘views being heard’. We can only assume that she is referring back to her experiences at WPP Group-owned Coley Porter Bell, where as creative director she may have felt that the ‘suits’ had the upper hand in decision-making.
Interestingly, similar sentiments are being echoed in architecture, though size rather than being merged with a multidisciplinary group appears to be the issue there. Last week superstar Michael Wilford – one-time partner of the late, great James Stirling – started to disband his practice, Michael Wilford & Partners.
Though he is setting up a smaller business, Michael Wilford Architects, according to press reports Wilford seized upon differences with his erstwhile partners to create a leaner team, predicting that the days of the medium-sized architectural practice are numbered. That effectively means the polarisation between small firms and big, often faceless building design groups.
This strikes a chord with design, reinforcing the view that big is not always best in the creative business. How much better to offer clients a choice of scale and approach and for designers to be happy with their lot.