Size is not the issue, as long as design is still key

As the established names at the big end of design go through massive changes, eyes are surely on the direction taken by the high-powered individuals suddenly out there on their own. They are poised to create what might arguably become the next generation of design consultancies.

What is former Enterprise IG Brand Experience (and previously Fitch) chief executive John Harrison up to, for example? Will he re-emerge with the former Enterprise IG managing director David Fraser (and also one-time Fitch man) at his right hand? And who else will defect from either camp to join him?

What, meanwhile, has happened to Fitch managing partners Keith Bamber and Nigel Forsyth, who have gone silent since they walked out last month (DW 5 June)? Will either of them re-emerge with former Bamber Forsyth colleagues Lee Hoddy and Thom Newton, who also recently quit Fitch, or will we see a new entity come out of their long-standing partnership?

Many designers who have gone through the mill with big groups are tempted by the idea of forming creative ’boutiques’ – small hot shops doing beautiful work for relatively small clients. Take former FutureBrand duo David Davies and Stuart Baron and their new group 571.

It is an understandable ambition, but not without its flaws, as many an independent owner will tell you. The question of who succeeds the original founders and how they get their money out when they step down continues to dog smaller groups, and there is always the problem of winning work against a competitive field, however big or small the business.

Among the few ‘new’ independents considering bigger ventures are former FutureBrand Europe head Charles Trevail, who has plans that span the Atlantic, and former Fitch Worldwide chief executive Paul Stead.

Stead is said to be interested in buying his alma mater Fitch should owner Cordiant Communications Group wish to dispose of it, but, with design aficionado Martin Sorrell at WPP Group a front-runner for acquiring CCG as Design Week went to press, Fitch looks unlikely to be sold off separately from its advertising stablemate Bates. Undaunted, Stead is now planning his own venture to launch on 1 September when he is contractually free to do so. And his idea is that it should be independent and producing great work, yet global.

With Imagination the only remaining independent of any size and ranking first in Design Week’s 2003 Top 100, there is scope for a new breed of consultancy here. It will be interesting to see how big the likes of Trevail and Stead want their teams to be – and a key to success will be how prominent designers are in them.

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