Proud of its record in making clients ‘fit for purpose’, R&D&Co still manages to produce show-stopping work. Clare Dowdy talks to Rob Andrews and David Carroll, the wellconnected founders of this fledgling outfit
What comes after Vince Frost and before Pentagram? In John Sorrell’s eyes, it’s R&D&Co, the consultancy he picked to brand his London Design Festival the year after he commissioned Frost, and the year before Pentagram.
So while R&D&Co may be relatively unknown, it is keeping good company. And like many a high-level spin-off from a big name, its portfolio belies its fledgling nature. R&D&Co is in that grand modern tradition of an outfit punching above its weight, courtesy of the track record of its well-connected founders.
Rob Andrews and David Carroll set up shop together three years ago, having both taken voluntary redundancy after seven years each at Newell and Sorrell, and then Interbrand. So they are part of that ex-Interbrand diaspora, some of whom they are still collaborating with.
Since then, they’ve built up a seven-strong team based in London’s Shoreditch, and have branded and rebranded a sizeable collection of businesses, picking up a few awards en route.
‘We left Interbrand with nothing but our fingers crossed,’ says Andrews. Their first project and important break rolled into one was the repositioning of London’s Old Vic theatre. ‘That one opportunity probably snowballed the whole company,’ Andrews adds. It was an opportunity which was brought to them through John Simmons, Interbrand’s former language guru – an early example of the effectiveness of the ex-Interbrand connection.
Other chunky projects in the early days included Kennedys law firm, Diageo – which they still work with – and Chambers dictionaries. And in the pipeline is identity work for Arbah, a sharia-based wealth management company based in Saudi Arabia; the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank; and a gourmet hotdog restaurant start-up, launching in January.
Some of these are typical Interbrand-style clients, but Andrews and Carroll believe that now they’re their own bosses, they’re able to stretch themselves creatively.
Carroll feels more satisfied creatively with what they’re doing now. ‘Kennedys was brave to have humour as part of its brand. We wouldn’t have even presented that at Interbrand,’ he says.
‘When I was at Interbrand, if there were three routes being developed I would do the revolution rather than the evolution. I can put my hand on my heart and say we have revolutionised a handful of businesses every year and made them properly fit for purpose again,’ says Andrews.
But it’s not about whizz-bang solutions, they say. ‘We add value to a business and we do it by doing quite show-stopping work,’ says Andrews. ‘Stuff can be show-stopping without being crazy or wild or completely design-led.’
They believe that being involved from start to finish allows them to have a stronger influence, in contrast to their former employer’s strategy. ‘Interbrand is very successful, but based on a modular, formulaic way of doing things,’ says Andrews. ‘It’s compartmentalised, whereas here we see everything through.’
And as for making businesses fit for purpose again, Chambers has seen a 30 per cent increase in sales for its main dictionary, which is back on the shelves of WH Smith and stocked in Australia.
R&D&Co is headed by joint creative directors – ‘We both have egos and they need to be satisfied,’ as Carroll puts it – and is staffed by one designer from The Partners, one from Interbrand, and graduates. ‘People who’ve just left college are more open to anything,’ says Andrews.
The founders have a management consultant working on their five-year plan, which involves growing to between 25 and 30 people. ‘We believe that the work that we do is completely scalable but it’s difficult to convince clients,’ admits Carroll, and, in fact, they recently lost a Saudi Arabian bank job to Landor Associates.
That sort of growth in staff numbers seems manageable, given that the group has seen 50 per cent year-on-year financial growth since setting up in 2004 – though it declines to reveal figures.
They like the idea of modelling themselves on consultancies they describe as being lauded for the quality of their design work. ‘We admire SAS and The Partners, and we joined Newell and Sorrell when it was a big but interesting design group,’ Carroll says.
And despite the potential pitfalls of being part of a big group, neither is put off by the idea of selling out, as SAS, The Partners and Newell and Sorrell all did. ‘Being bought is an option,’ says Carroll. So R&D&Co could be a future design acquisition story.