DW top design groups

Ranked this year by design fees instead of number of staff designers, the Top 100 groups have shuffled a bit. Product designers are coming on strong, and economic changes have ushered in a few newcomers One hundred groups earning some 361m in design fees

Ranked this year by design fees instead of number of staff designers, the Top 100 groups have shuffled a bit. Product designers are coming on strong, and economic changes have ushered in a few newcomers

One hundred groups earning some 361m in design fees on a turnover of almost 744m; this is the overall picture painted by the Design Week Top 100 consultancy listings this year.

In all, 3062 designers are accounted for among the 6384 staff total, though not all of these are based in Britain.

By the new reckoning which makes design fees the determining factor, print and packaging group Landor leaps to the top of the chart with 32m in design fee income worldwide. Last year it gave data only for its European business, quoting design fees of 11m. Europe this year accounted for 12m.

Significantly, had we still been basing listings on number of design staff, Landor would also have topped the chart with an international team of 187 designers. Last year it reported 66 full-time designers in Europe.

Meanwhile, last year’s chart-topper, interiors and graphics group BDG/McColl, slips to 19th place this year. Its total of 126 designers is slightly down on last year’s 142, but it remains one of the biggest largely UK groups – after Cambridge Consultants (4). Design fees of 5.5m, though, are significantly down on last year’s 7m – an indication perhaps of the fluctuations in the interiors market these days.

Two significant newcomers this year are hotel specialists. Hirsch/Bedner Associates (10) and Richmond International (65). The nature of the work carried out by Hirsch/Bedner, which includes hotel refurbishment, gives them a massive turnover of 218m compared with design fees of 9m.

Of the groups ranked in this year’s top ten, only three – Cambridge Consultants (4), Imagination (5) and Sampson Tyrrell (8) – do not have sizeable overseas creative teams.

And the trend continues throughout the upper section of the chart. Anglo-American identity group Interbrand, for example, is in at number 13 with a healthy 8.6m in fees, up on last year’s 7.9m, but 48 of its 62 staff work abroad. And KSDP Pentagraph Design Group holds 29th position with 3.14m in fees, though only two of its 94 staff are UK-based.

So keen is the international competition now that three hefty design groups completed our questionnaire even though they have no staff in the UK. These are Degrippes Gobe & Associates, which had a London office in its earlier incarnation as Desgrippes Cato Gobe and ranked 8th in last year’s charts, Scandinavian Design Group and The International Design Group. We excluded them this year, as we had not set out on a worldwide trawl of consultancies, but there’s a thought for the future.

There is a fair spread of interests among the top ten, which traditionally features multidisciplinary groups such as Euro RSCG Design (3), Fitch (6) and Minale Tattersfield & Partners (9).

Events specialist Imagination (5) fits the same bill, but its ranking this year is not strictly in line with the other groups, in that the nature of its multimedia operation makes it almost impossible to isolate design fees from the rest. We left it in the charts, however, as it is too important a group to leave out, especially with the work for the Millennium event to be held at Greenwich currently going through the studio.

The two main design consultancies under the umbrella of communications group WPP did well again this year, demonstrating that ownership by a public company can pay off. Top of the pile is self-styled “visual management” specialist Sampson Tyrrell, which was 8th with its 9.4m design fees. Stablemate Coley Porter Bell comes in at number 17 with a design income of 6m from its largely branding business, despite difficulties it reportedly went through during the year.

Identity and branding consultancies generally make a good showing in the Top 100 and it is heartening to see some of the more creative groups among the top earners. Design Bridge (18) holds its position just inside the top 20 despite the change in ranking this year, with just under 6m in design fees. Newell and Sorrell weighs in at 21 with 4.25m in fees; Wickens Tutt Southgate ranks 32nd with 3m fees; The Partners comes in 36th with 2.54m; and Lewis Moberly’s 2.27 puts it in the 40 slot. It is great to have proof that creative success can be matched with commercial reward.

One of the biggest differences in this year’s charts is the healthy showing made by product designers in the Top 100. Traditionally quite small teams, few groups other than Cambridge Consultants and Seymour Powell have ever graced the main listings.

The massive Cambridge Consultants takes top billing this year, coming in 4th with a design team of 140 earning 15m in fees. Next among the product specialists is Seymour Powell (62), its 15 designers bringing in 1.53m in fees. Random Group and PSD Associates share 69th place, with 1.3m in fees apiece – though Random has 11 full-time designers while PSD has 17. Leicester group Jones Garrard clocks in at 74, with fees of 1.23m for its 14 designers.

Groups to watch are theoretically those with the strongest growth projections over the coming 12 months. On that reckoning Siegel & Gale (2) is an absolute winner with its 75 per cent projection, while Euro RSCG Design (3), Hirsch/Bedner (10) and Studio 36 (11) are among the most optimistic in the top 20, each forecasting 20 per cent growth.

Lower down the charts, BCG Communications (39) predicts a confident 60 per cent growth, Morgan Lovell (joint 42) is looking for 40 per cent and Brown Inc (49) has 35 per cent in mind. PSD (joint 69), the newly merged CGI Ingleton Thomas (joint 72) and Jones Garrard (74) are all hopeful of 30 per cent growth.

We’d like to see these dreams come true, and for those less prepared to stick their necks out to do better than anticipated during 1996. But life for designers is something of a lottery these days, and experience with the Top 100 survey shows that not all hopes are realised. With the tone generally up in the design business right now though, we’d like to think there’s a better than even chance that the upturn will at last be reflected in earnings. Prove us right.m

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