Prime movers

Excluding fees generated outside the UK has had a strong effect on this year’s chart, as international groups which once dominated have lost ground

Last year we changed the way we ranked consultancies, basing their position in our annual charts on their income from design fees rather than the number of designers they employ. Now we have refined that process even further, citing only the design fees generated by their UK offices on the main Top 100 listing on page 48.

By doing this, we make it easier to compare like with like. Most UK design groups operate from UK offices, though their clientele is increasingly international – particularly in retail design, identity and branding. We have included fees generated from this global work – we do not wish to portray our business as parochial – but only if projects were worked on in the UK.

Of course, this has had a significant effect on the handful of truly international groups that traditionally come towards the top of our tables. We’re thinking of the likes of WPP Group’s Enterprise Identity Group, Landor, Interbrand and Fitch here. Most have made every effort to comply with our new format, even though the accounts of such trail-blazing concerns are far more complex than those of most mainstream groups. For this we thank them; without such leadership worldwide, design might always be perceived as a cottage craft industry.

For some it has been impossible. Last year’s chart-topper, Landor Associates, for example, now promotes its London office as an integral part of its European business and is unwilling to separate out figures for the UK operation from those generated in its sister office in France. But to give some idea of the international strength of groups with a solid UK offer, we have produced a separate table of the top ten global players (see page 53).

As business continues to grow, other groups are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their offer to clients. “Strategic consultancy” may be one of the most overused phrases in the business, but for a few groups it is an apt description of the way they work with clients and it is hard to differentiate between what amounts to management consultancy and pure design. Then there is the cross-over into new media (which is hardly reflected here and merits a separate study later in the year) and the growing tendency for ad agencies to move into design.

The consultancy that probably best sums this up is Imagination. Still an events specialist, it does so much more, from the Millennium project at Greenwich in south London to quasi- theatre. How do you hive off fees earned through design from those earned by script-writing and special effects when you’re talking about one project generated by a single company operating from one building? Imagination, ranked fifth last year, has reached a point of sophistication where it can’t, and, regrettably, has not been able to take part in the survey.

This year we are producing only one UK-based listing, whereas in the past we have published entries from all consultancies taking part in the survey. Limiting the hold the big international players have had over the top chart positions has allowed several newcomers to enter the Top 100. However, some disciplines – such as product design and interiors – tend not to generate huge fees in the average year because workloads involve fewer projects than, say, multidisciplinary groups or those involved in print and packaging. Staff tends to be smaller and overheads less than those of bigger groups.

Few of these businesses are, therefore, likely to appear in the main charts. But that doesn’t mean that their place in the industry is any less important – far from it, as UK product design is acknowledged worldwide and if any discipline has the Government’s vote as an agent in wealth-creation then product design is surely it. To take account of this, we have produced tables, compiled from all the entries, highlighting the top ten in each specialist sector (see page 51).

Design Week’s Top 100 Consultancy Survey is a respected source of information on the UK design business, used by government, clients and the media, among others. We therefore strive to paint an accurate picture of the workings of design and, with the help of independent management consultant Ian Cochrane of Ticegroup, check data wherever it appears questionable. We do, however, rely heavily on the honesty and integrity of participants who filled in the questionnaire that was published in the magazine and mailed to key players.

Over the years, we’ve eliminated groups not conforming with our definition of design. That definition encompasses all graphics, branding, identity, interiors, exhibition work and product design. Hence we have eliminated the big architectural practices which used to dominate the top of the charts and, where possible, businesses whose main thrust is not design – marketing companies and print shops, for example.

A position in our charts does not say anything about the creative quality of a consultancy’s work or about the standard of service it offers its clients. But it makes sense that if a design group is doing well – consistently – there has to be some merit in the work it produces.

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