If you don’t trust the optimism designers currently project, this year’s Top 100 survey proves that the UK design industry has turned a corner and bears a promise of prosperity all round (see page 47). Even without megagroups Landor and Imagination, whose accounting systems prevent them from complying with our survey conditions, and “spoilt” survey forms by a number of groups which failed to answer our questions correctly, the Top 100 consultancies reported 19 per cent growth in fees during 1996 and forecast a further 17 per cent boost by the end of the year.
It will become tougher for us to paint a true picture of the design business over the next few years as it polarises between consultancy and implementation and boundaries are blurred between design and other creative areas. It’s already hard to quantify the influence on global clients supergroups such as WPP, Interbrand-owner Omnicom and French media giant Havas wield in the name of design. Financial performance is only one way of doing it.
At the top end we are likely to see more of the strategies the likes of WPP have pioneered, the parent group supporting a specialist global umbrella company – in WPP’s case Enterprise Identity Group – and smaller dedicated design, advertising and marketing companies.
Businesses like Imagination and other multimedia groups will find it increasingly hard to single out design fees from income from cross-disciplinary projects and ad agencies such as those featured on page 26 might choose not to identify their thrusting design arms as players solely in the design field.
We welcome this complexity, even if it means that in our survey we find it harder to compare like with like. The 1997 Top 100 listing is based on the lowliest pawn in the design game, though not necessarily in creative terms – the UK design group. But our approach will change as the industry matures. We relish the thought of singling out design fees from management consultancy earnings in the design group of the future.