Why creative success is so hard to measure

Business is on the up again, according to our latest Top 100 trawl. Earnings, staff, efficiency – however you measure it, the picture is brighter than it’s been for some time and the forecast is promising. If the good fortune visiting many of our Top 100 groups hasn’t touched you yet, don’t panic. Better days are probably on the way.

Size has ceased to be a big issue in design, except to prove the industry’s muscle, hence our shift from staffing to income for our Top 100 ranking. A consultancy’s payroll is no longer an obvious sign of its might. It takes no account of freelance input, and the efficiency all businesses strive for is about getting more out of less rather than swelling the ranks without good reason. But however they’re compiled, the tables put a few dimensions on the industry.

Would that it were as easy to assess creative ability as it is commercial success – and that creativity was a clear goal for more designers. Yet we all rate creativity as the essence of good design, its USP (unique selling proposition) if you want to be brutally businesslike about it.

Even among groups turning out outstanding work, creativity should not just show in great visuals or a stunning interior. It should underpin every service designers offer to clients and even the way a consultancy is run. Why should a client come to a design group for strategic and consultancy services it could get as easily from other professional agencies if not because it wants the blend of expertise, innovation and imagination associated with great design?

It’s easy to look back with nostalgia to the roots of the UK industry – to the Sixties and Seventies when creativity was flowing out of the art schools. But business wasn’t the issue then it is now. For a moment in the Eighties it looked like we’d achieved a balance between the two, but the scale came down too heavily on the commercial side.

If only more Nineties designers could appreciate that creativity is as much about attitude as about a design concept, we might reinstate it at the heart of design’s culture.

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