Hotting up

In part two of the 1996 consultancy survey, all 120 groups listed earned less than 1m in design fees, but confidence for growth in the coming year is high

The UK design industry is deemed to be sophisticated compared with its overseas cousins, but it is still made up of a bunch of small – even tiny – businesses with a vast array of abilities and management styles.

The 120 consultancies listed in the second part of our survey are in many ways more representative than the mega groups appearing towards the top of the Top 100 chart (see pages 14 and 15). They tend to be specialist, run by designers, and relatively creative. They also – with the exception of Torres (joint 114), ACC (joint 126), Dialog (137), Counterpoint (joint 140), Curious (joint 170) and Sanchez Crespo (joint 213) – operate entirely out of the UK, though some have international clients.

None of the groups featured here earned 1m in design fees during 1995 – indeed, CDT Design takes top slot with fees of 870 000. But the fortunes of these smaller players still look as promising as those of the bigger groups.

A common theme is the tremendous optimism shown by those who took part in the survey. Look at the forecasts for growth this year and you have pretty conclusive evidence that the “feel good” factor is returning to design. Take Aricot Vert’s (joint 199) projection of a massive 150 per cent growth and predictions by West Country groups Armadillo Associates (joint 167) and Warner Associates (206) of 100 per cent increase. Add to this the fact that eight other groups are looking to up their fortunes by 50 per cent or more, and you get some measure of the confidence this year. Only three groups in this week’s chart don’t project growth.

Of course, it’s not all success and some have tumbled a bit over the past 12 months. London group XMPR International (123), for example, reports fees of 660 000 from its nine designers compared with a design fee income of 1.1m and a place in the Top 100 in the 1995 survey. And graphics consultancy Roundel Design (joint 124) has had a quieter year, with its 11 designers earning 650 000 in fees in 1995 compared with 700 000 its team of ten earned the previous year.

But for all groups in the charts the past 12 months has been a time for rethinking staffing and strategies. Among the most dramatic moves of late has been Fishburn Hedges’ (107) takeover by media group Abbot Mead Vickers, which took place in January this year (DW 19 January) and signals growth in 1996. But CDT Design (101), XMPR (123) and Curious (formerly Baker Jazdzewski), ranked joint 170th, are among those reorganising to a lesser extent during the year. Such realignments take time and energy and can mean a consultancy stays static for a time, in terms of output and therefore income.

Elsewhere though there’s definite commercial and creative potential. Ones to watch have to include Bath group Armadillo Associates (joint 167) and London interiors consultancy Lumsden Design Partnership (joint 186), set up just over a year ago by Callum Lumsden and growing with the help of clients such as the Automobile Association. Then there’s McDaniel Woolf (219), a tiny husband-and-wife team with huge potential, thanks to the award-winning furniture, lighting and retail designs by Richard Woolf, designer of Muji’s four UK shops while at Harper Mackay.

On the graphics front our votes go to London group Spencer Landor (172), moving forward with great work. And keep an eye on Assorted Images (joint 174), where Malcolm Garrett’s one-time partner Kasper de Graaf is focusing on industries such as telecoms and collaborating with groups of other disciplines to offer a comprehensive package.

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