“Our office rent doubled overnight” – is London finally over for designers?

As his consultancy swallows another rent hike, Good’s Chris Lumsden looks at what changes to the capital might mean for the design industry.

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You can’t have missed the journalistic topic of the summer: articles on why London is over.

Themes range from how London’s creative heart is being stifled by the super-rich buying properties, only to leave them empty; to how there is nowhere affordable for normal people to live and finally; to how many people are packing it all in and moving out to Bristol, Birmingham, Brighton and the rest.

As someone who runs a design consultancy based in Glasgow and London, you might expect me to suggest that this focus on places other than London is a great thing – rebalancing the country, moving talent out of the capital etc.

The rent on our Farringdon office has doubled overnight

However, bad as it is (and things are bad – the rent on our Farringdon office has doubled overnight, with no room for negotiation – thanks Crossrail), the picture is more complicated than that.

It’s true that the traditionally creative areas – essentially, those formerly cheap and run-down, then colonised by agencies (Soho, Shoreditch etc.) are being overtaken by big companies with deep pockets: lawyers, finance firms and the rest. This is pushing many creative businesses to the fringes of the capital. Or out altogether.

We can’t be the only firm to have looked at the new bill for our office and wondered if we needed one at all, or whether an office could be virtual. (We did decide, in the end, to keep it).

Talented people cluster in one place – if we can no longer do that in London people will move elsewhere

But does this change London, or change the creative sector? And how does the design industry evolve to deal with this?

If the trend continues, then things will of course change for us. Industries are made up of the people within them and the ideas they generate. Specialisms have always been localised, as talented people cluster in one place and share their knowledge. If we can no longer do that in London, and even the fringes become unaffordable, then people will move elsewhere. The spread of knowledge across a wider area can’t help but alter how competitive and effective a sector can be.

But while consultancies may suffer greater financial pressures, large clients are likely to feel these less, and remain in the capital.

Bigger consultancies may benefit from being able to remain

Dealing with these potential changes may be about an attitude shift from consultancies – and from clients. Having been in the States recently, clients don’t expect their consultancies to be on their doorstep, as is often the case here. They simply expect them to get on a plane when they need to. And London is very easy to visit from almost everywhere in the UK.

Will this mindset shift actually happen? Hard to say. The rising prices of the capital may benefit those bigger consultancies that can afford to remain, and we may see more consolidation in the sector.

All things said London may change. But at the moment it is still, despite everything, the creative heart of the country. Other cities are creative and brilliant but London is the centre. And even now, when it’s the fashionable thing to decry the city as unliveable and unworkable, it is still in everyone’s interests that London remains strong.

It’s too soon to write off London yet

London is not going anywhere fast. It remains a major global creative centre and competes not with Bristol and Glasgow, but with New York, Berlin and Singapore.

Things might be changing, but it’s too soon to write off London yet. The city is the most vibrant creative resource that any of us in the UK have – whether we are based within it, or in Glasgow, Bristol, Manchester or a small village somewhere. We can moan as much as we like – but let’s make the most of it now. Because if it goes anywhere, we really will miss it.

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Chris Lumsden is founding partner at Good.

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  • Steve Blakeborough October 17, 2015 at 9:03 am

    In sectors such as film, digital and UX, Bristol is perfectly capable of competing internationally without
    London. I moved to Bristol in 2002 after over 15 wonderful years in the capital. At the time Bristol felt parochial and behind London. That simply isn’t the case any more. Back then senior talent was moving out of London for an improved lifestyle. Nowadays Bristol attracts great young talent from all over Europe and beyond.

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