Blastoff

Measuring success by income, the 11th Design Week consultancy survey sees entries – and fortunes – up

WE’VE changed the way we’ve done things this year. Instead of basing the Design Week Top 100 listings on the size of consultancies’ design teams, we opted to rank groups according to design fee income, asking them to submit figures for the 12 months to end-December 1995.

The rationale is simple. In these post-recessionary times, size is no longer the issue it once was for design groups. Though a few newish consultancies – particularly the spin-offs from the supergroups of the late Eighties – still aspire to the staffing levels common to top-end UK design groups in wealthier times, most prefer to stay mean and lean these days. The trend is to supplement in-house teams with freelance designers or specialist consultants when appropriate, a factor which didn’t show up sufficiently well in the charts.

And, of course, by using financial performance to determine a group’s standing in the listings, we’re bringing design into line with other, arguably more sophisticated, consultancy services such as advertising and marketing. The weekly press serving both these sectors rank their agencies according to earnings.

Another feature of this year’s charts is that we have included worldwide figures for most of the global groups featured. Chart-topper Landor, for example, has offices across the world and it is its combined income that we show here. The reasoning? Globalisation is such a big issue for design now that most of the key players in the UK have clients, offices or alliances abroad and it is no longer possible or desirable to paint a picture which is wholly British.

This does load the Top 100 rather in favour of the big international players, even though some Рlike French consultancies Dragon International and Carr̩ Noir Рhave only a small UK presence. Multidisciplinary groups like Fitch also make a good showing. But the smaller, more specialist groups that are the backbone of the UK design industry, particularly on the product design front, will get their chance next week when we publish the rest of the tables to allow readers to check out their friends and rivals.

We have again excluded the big architectural practices such as YRM, RMJM and the Percy Thomas Partnership which once dominated the Design Week charts. Even though most of their work is grand-scale stuff, it is paid on a different fee basis to mainstream design. We first omitted them last year on the grounds that the sheer scale of their operations and the relatively high fees attached to big building projects painted a distorted picture of what we as a sector recognise as design.

Despite the change in the way consultancies are ranked, we gleaned the information for our charts in the same way we did last year. A questionnaire was published in Design Week in January, giving readers the opportunity to take part. A total of 232 groups took up that offer in time to meet our deadline – a significant rise in the number of participants compared with last year. Some chose not to take part again this year, though very few cited the new ranking method as the reason. Office moves, restructuring and an inability to single out design fee income from other earnings were given as the main problems.

We are heartened by the positive response we’ve received to this year’s survey, but we cannot claim to be comprehensive. Participation is voluntary and we have to accept design groups’ word that the figures given are correct. However, independent business guru Ian Cochrane of management and strategic consultancy Ticegroup is sufficiently au fait with the industry to spot the signs if data is radically wrong or there is obvious confusion, and some consultancies have been asked to check their figures. Knowing that the survey is a vital source of data on design for Government, commercial clients, colleges and consultancies, we strive hard for accuracy to paint as full a picture as we can.

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