Measures of success

The first of Design Week’s Creative Surveys, which ranks groups according to the awards they have won, has thrown up a few surprises, says Lynda Relph-Knight. Additional research by Natalie Spencer.

Everyone loves winning awards. And, despite the reticence of some groups to take part in Design Week’s first trawl of awards stars, we bet the results will be pored over by all and sundry, not least to find faults in our scoring.

We embarked on the exercise – which we plan to run annually – to start to identify the more creative players in the business. With “creativity” the buzzword on the lips of Government ministers and captains of industry alike, design needs to show its muscle at a time when so many other sectors are getting in on the act. We in design shouldn’t be complacent in our belief that visual expression is the only place that creativity lies. It just isn’t so.

Awards aren’t the only way to measure creative success – and not everyone chooses to enter them. But at least they help to gauge who’s turning out the best work. Some clients look to awards results when spotting talent and they are key to building a consultancy’s reputation when it comes to attracting the best staff.

Increasingly, even judging panels charged to find “creative excellence” are looking beyond the slick styling and pretty visuals for work that shows genuine innovation, underpinned by strategic thinking and good old-fashioned wit. It’s about making a difference, not just to get bums on seats or goods off the shelves or put across the corporate message, but to spread a bit of joy in the process.

By highlighting groups that have done well in the creative stakes, we hope to create new heroes – though, interestingly enough, many of the graphics groups identified by journalist Beryl McAlhone in 1990 and 1993 in a similar exercise for the then monthly Design magazine still feature. We also hope to fuel another round in the debate on creativity that rages in and outside design.

How it was done

The findings are largely based on a simple questionnaire circulated among design groups. Design Week readers were invited to apply for a form, which was sent to consultancies which had entered our 1998 Top 100 Consultancy Survey as well as previous Design Week Award winners. We also gleaned data from our files and from the records of the Design Business Association and British Design and Art Direction.

Participants were asked to detail their fortunes in any creative awards – organised in the UK or overseas – during the three years from May 1995. They were also asked to list personal honours won by members of their team during that period, ranging from RSA Student Awards to winning the D&AD President’s Medal.

We checked the data submitted wherever possible to ensure accuracy, but we still rely to an extent on the integrity of participants. This is why a number of overseas awards have been excluded this year, because we were unable to verify the results to our satisfaction.

We devised a points system for the various awards, omitting the more esoteric schemes mentioned. The scoring system is largely based on that used by McAlhone for the Design magazine listings. We have, however, extended our reach to take in most of the disciplines covered by DW readers, including product, interior and exhibition design, as well as graphics.

Awards success in multimedia has proved more difficult to measure, given than many groups have shied away from submitting data. We have therefore not identified it as a discreet category here, though the position of multi disciplinary groups, such as Fitch, are no doubt boosted by it. Instead, we plan to run a separate league table later in the year, when we hope to coax reticent multimedia stars into the limelight.

We’ve organised the results in three ways. First, we’ve taken what are generally considered to be the top UK awards – the Design Week Awards, the D&AD Awards and the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards – and ranked a Top 50 according to performance in those schemes. We’ve then listed 50 design groups according to their showing in all the major award schemes worldwide, including points for personal honours bestowed on individual team members.

Our third section comprises league tables for corporate identity, print, branding and packaging, product design and furniture, and interiors and exhibitions, based on the Top 50 – all awards placing.

We thank McAlhone and Ticegroup chairman Ian Cochrane for their guidance and inspiration in reviving the idea of an awards trawl.

Top 50 – DW/DBA/D&AD awards

One of the key features of this table is the spread of consultancies winning honours in the Design Week Awards, D&AD Awards and DBA Design Effectiveness Awards. While

The Partners tops the charts, as it did in Beryl McAlhone’s 1993 graphics listing for Design magazine, there are five pure product design consultancies in the top ten, and an array of multidisciplinary groups such as Pentagram, Fitch and Wolff Olins and in-house teams from Dyson Appliances, BBC Resources and JCB Industrial make the Top 50 list.

Another feature is the mix of heavyweights, in terms of staff numbers and management teams. It shows you don’t have to be big or small to be creative. The Partners in top slot boasted 55 staff, including 25 designers, in the 1998 Design Week Top 100 Consultancy Survey (DW 27 March), ranking 25th. After 15 years in business, one of design’s best known groups is still prepared to change and is doing extremely well commercially as a consequence.

By comparison, Johnson Banks in second place is a tiny business. Led by the hugely talented Michael Johnson, the west London group focuses on producing great work in print and identity. Still only seven-strong, including six designers, it has picked up several prestigious jobs of late – notably the Government’s first annual report – having swept the board of the awards a year or so ago with its annual report for Dutch entertainments giant PolyGram and posters for the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Further down the charts is Mark Farrow Design (equal 13th), considered by some to be the “designers’ designer”, straddled by megagroups Fitch and Wolff Olins. Evidence again that judges do not discriminate on size of consultancy, only on the quality of the work

The list includes a number of long-standing superstars, such as Lewis Moberly in sixth position, Pentagram in 12th slot and CDT Design in equal ninth place. But there are a number of outstanding newcomers. Take product design group Design Acumen in seventh position, largely on the strength of the British Airways First Class seat, which scored well in all three awards schemes. Then there’s branding and packaging group Turner Duckworth in eighth place, with a DW Best of Show, and Thomas Heatherwick in joint 19th position purely because of this year’s gold and silver wins for his Autumn Intrusions window display for London department store Harvey Nichols.

Heatherwick’s success in the charts shows how easily you can shoot to fame on the strength of one great project. The secret is keeping up there in the way that groups such as HGV, Interbrand Newell and Sorrell and Pentagram have consistently done. Groups ranking high in the Top 50 table shown opposite, which takes account of various UK and international awards, owe their scores to their active interest and support of various awards schemes.

Several of the groups listed on this page are renowned for strategic thinking, rather than “pretty” design, which is an encouraging sign for the future. Among the strongest of these are Wolff Olins (joint 16th), Imagination (joint 26nd) and retail specialist 20/20 (equal 40th). But one of the greatest triumphs is the showing by so many product groups, including in-house teams at Dyson and JCB.

Interestingly, big international groups Ideo Product Development and Fitch are up there, but not at the top. The picture is rather different when you look at the next chart, which includes overseas awards, largely from the US.

Top 50 – all awards

It’s no surprise to find Fitch and Ideo Product Development topping the charts covering awards from across the world. These are truly global groups, and both are big. Both have their roots firmly planted in the UK, but now have an even stronger presence in the US with offshoots elsewhere. This is reflected in the spread of awards they have won, largely in the US, for the kind of project many a UK consultancy would give its eye teeth for.

Fitch’s origins are in retail and it is still strong in that field – witness its success in this year’s Design Week Awards, among others, with the Ingredients bakery chain. In the US it has built on a product design tradition, and is trying to repeat that success in Europe through senior director for product design Clive Grinyer. But its awards successes are across the board, ranging from corporate identity and packaging to multimedia, as well as its longer standing skills.

Ideo, meanwhile, has a strong product design focus. But what sets it apart from many a product design group worldwide is its blue skies thinking and expertise in human factors. Its thoughtful approach shows in the kind of product design that genuinely breaks new ground, notably in sports or new technology markets of late, as well as thorough research programmes working alongside top clients.

Like Fitch, Ideo’s award wins reflect its international standing, with prizes from the US and UK matched by honours as far away as Germany and Korea. Not all of these count in our point-scoring, but they reinforce the group’s position as a world-leading design business.

Ranked third to tenth is a curious mix of consultancies operating in the print or branding arenas. In a way this is to be expected, given the number of awards in the UK alone covering these categories. But it is big wins in the top awards schemes that give such high scores.

The Partners and Lewis Moberly are naturals for a high ranking. Both have always put quality first, the one largely in print, the other in branding, and worked hard to convince clients of the value of great design. Both take an active role in the design industry – Aziz Cami of The Partners and Mary Lewis have both served as British Design and Art Direction president, for example – and both are keen to enter awards. Of the two, Lewis Moberly is the rarer, having in the past won top creative prizes and a DBA Design Effectiveness Award for the same project – packaging for Boots own-brand hosiery.

Drinks packaging specialist Blackburn’s, ten-year-old print design group HGV and branding star Wickens Tutt Southgate – now allied financially to Rodney Fitch and Partners – have also earned places in the top ten through consistent awards success.

Relative newcomers though are branding group Turner Duckworth (fifth) and Johnson Banks (sixth), the print and identity specialist headed by Michael Johnson.

Six-year-old Turner Duckworth straddles the Atlantic, with small offices in London under Bruce Duckworth and in San Francisco under David Turner. Here it is known for packaging, notably for own-brand clients such as Superdrug and Waitrose; its US award wins, however, tend to be for posters and print work.

There are a few other surprises in the top 20. You’d expect to see Pentagram there, for example, with its creative legacy, CDT Design and Ben Casey’s Manchester-based group The Chase. But Frost Design, with its editorial design prowess, and new-product development specialist Pearlfisher are less predictable.

It is encouraging to see six product groups ranked in the Top 50 – no mean feat when you consider that there are relatively few awards schemes for them in the UK, compared with graphics disciplines. This is even more the case with interiors and exhibition design specialists such as the mighty events group Imagination (34th) and Ben Kelly Design (35th) and retail experts like RPA (equal 41st). There are a few small awards relating to trade shows or specialist magazines, but little of great standing.

Increasingly, looking down the list you see multidisciplinary groups emerging. Few are on the scale of Fitch or Pentagram, both with strong transatlantic ties, or UK identity expert Wolff Olins, whose multifaceted role in London’s recent Heathrow Express rail project showed just how versatile it is. But, the alliance between WTS (tenth) and Rodney Fitch links branding and retail expertise and the coming together of Tutssels and Lambie-Nairn to form The Brand Union (22nd) combines branding and TV graphics.

But, there are still those who stand alone. Take Thomas Heatherwick (equal 28th), whose Autumn Intrusions display for London department store Harvey Nichols stole the show at D&AD this year. The rare D&AD gold (also won by Imaginary Forces for its screen titles for the film Gattaca), and the category-winning silver were enough to give this young designer/artist a high position. You could say it marries design and advertising superbly and shows sheer nerve on the part of both designer and client – the stuff of top award wins, and an example more should try to follow.

Packaging and branding

Not that long ago it was just packaging. Now it is all about brands, and for many groups it has meant a broadening out of their offer. Leeds group Elmwood Design, for example, could figure as a print specialist as, to an extent, could Pearlfisher. Landor ranks among the top identity groups, especially in the US, with airlines and sports events a speciality and The Brand Union covers TV branding as well as other forms.

Fuelled by the rapid rise of retailers’ own-brands, packaging took off in a big way in awards schemes in the late Eighties. But the brands have battled back, fighting their corner in the courts and in front of awards juries. Drinks brands have always been strong – hence the continuing success of specialists such as Lewis Moberly and Blackburn’s – but it was Britvic’s soft drink Tango that changed the face of branding awards in 1993. That original work by Wickens Tutt Southgate was too early for our trawl, but the London group’s development of the brand still continues to win prizes.

Own-brand is, however, far from dead. Great work is coming out of Superdrug, for example, which is muscling into the high street pharmaceuticals and toiletries market with an exemplary roster of designers. Turner Duckworth and WTS both owe some of their awards success over the past 12 months to that client.

The supermarkets, meanwhile, are still fighting on price and to an extent own-brand design. Elmwood’s work for Asda and Turner Duckworth’s for Waitrose figure here, especially Turner Duckworth’s Seafood Soup range, which shared Best of Show honours in Design Week’s 1997 awards.

There is an international dimension to the packaging charts, notably through the presence of Landor Associates’ global network and work by UK groups for multinational fmcg clients. Several UK groups are very active in US awards, but largely for UK work.

Interiors and exhibitions

Because there are relatively few awards for interiors and exhibitions, we’ve put the two together for our first trawl. That might make little sense for dedicated exhibition designers such as Met Studio, which has scooped many an award for its experience-based installations notably in the Far East, or retail specialists like RPA and 20/20. But the crossover between disciplines is increasing, fuelled initially by the constraints of recession.

Take events supergroup Imagination, which is as likely to create a museum visitors’ centre as an exhibition like Cadbury’s World, or, indeed, Ben Kelly, who has gone from club design to exhibitions and now to office design. His recent work for the Design Council’s new London offices doesn’t show in these awards: his prizes here are largely for the Science Museum basement gallery. But watch this space.

A newcomer on the scene is architect Buschow Henley, which has done well this year in both Design Week and D&AD awards. A breakaway from architect Harper Mackay, which just missed a place in the interiors top ten, it is definitely one to watch on the office interiors front.

Product and furniture design

It’s good to see seven pure product groups ranked in the overall Top 50, the other two in our top ten falling not so far outside. Then, of course, there’s Fitch, the blockbusting multidisciplinary group with a strong reputation for product design, particularly in the US.

While Ideo Product Development’s performance is consistently outstanding, for many product designers awards success is transitory or at best haphazard because a common two-year project time means there may be nothing that fulfills award schemes’ requirements at any given time. A big omission in this chart, for example, is Priestman Goode, renowned for its creativity, but not appearing much on the awards circuit over the past year or so.

Welcome newcomers to the accolades are the in-house teams of Dyson Appliances and JCB Industrial, which just slipped off the bottom of the top ten chart. Ideo founder Bill Moggridge once said that the ideal scenario for the best design is great consultants matched by great teamwork from in-house studios. Perhaps we’re starting to get there.

The success of Dyson in our charts is due in part to the personal standing of vacuum cleaner magnate James Dyson, who was awarded the coveted Duke of Edinburgh Award last year, winning points for his company. Seymour

Powell’s position is similarly boosted by the D&AD President’s Medal given to the intrepid duo Richard Seymour and Dick Powell by Mary Lewis in 1995.

While it can be tough for product designers to feature in the award stakes, one superb design can do it. This is what has happened to Design Acumen with the British Airways First Class seat that swept the board a year or so ago. The consultancy has the talent to repeat the exercise. All it needs is the right client.

Furniture designers are sadly lacking from the top ten listing. A handful of specialists took part in our trawl, but there are few awards for them to enter and their scores over the past three years did not merit a ranking.


Print has yet to die at the hands of multimedia, if indeed it ever will. In terms of awards, it is better served than most disciplines, except perhaps packaging and branding. Some awards though, are tiny or tied to a paper company, and we have eliminated these from our trawl.

There are many familiar names here, each with their own strengths. The Partners is probably best known for annual reports and brochures, Vince Frost for magazines and newsletters (not least for D&AD), and Johnson Banks, HGV and CDT Design for posters, among other things. There are those who love illustration, notably Trickett & Webb, and others like Johnson Banks noted for use of photography and type. And if it’s charismatic stars you’re after, how about Mark Farrow.

The oddballs here include Siegel & Gale, currently going through a management buyout and not a regular on the awards circuit. But it won Grand Prix in the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards in 1995 for its Royal Mail change of address leaflet, which accounts for its success.

Corporate identity

It is only worth listing three groups in this sector, and even for them awards are largely for elements of an identity rather than the roll out as a whole. Hence Wolff Olins has scored several hits with, say, the Channel 5 website, rather than for the main project, and Fitch has done the same for other clients, largely in the US.

With the possible exception of the British Airways identity by Interbrand Newell and Sorrell, few big identities have been contenders for awards. Smaller letterhead-style entries from the likes of Johnson Banks and HGV consistently catch judges’ eyes, but for those groups the stronger showing in awards tends to be in print categories.

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