Black’s blue-eyed boys

Glasgow consultancy Black has won The Drum magazine’s Grand Prix award for its Tunnel Vision website. Tom Bawden profiles the growth of the group since it moved into multimedia.

Glasgow consultancy Black is in the design news this week after scooping three awards at The Drum magazine’s inaugural Scottish Design Awards 1998. One of these was the overall Drum Grand Prix, awarded for Tunnel Vision, the website Black created for Scottish leisure client Big Beat.

The group, which is in the midst of a significant expansion programme, has learned that evolution is the secret of success. It has kept a very close eye on developments in technology and the changing marketplace for design, and has adapted accordingly.

The consultancy, set up by managing director Gordon Black ten years ago as a graphics group, saw that new media would take off and added multimedia to its offer in 1994. In 1996 it beefed its electronic portfolio by adding website design to the mix.

In the 18 months since the introduction of Web design, Black has grown from eight staff to 21. Graphic design now accounts for around a third of its work.

“Things have been growing steadily from 1994, but have really taken off since 1996 as Internet awareness in the marketplace has grown. Clients are now much more comfortable about investing significant amounts of money in the medium,” says Black account director John Hornell.

Hornell was recruited last July as part of an initiative to bring the business forward. He has worked with the consultancy to build a formal management layer into the business to prepare it for the next level of growth.

The new structure has driven the promotional side of the business. Initiatives include a new brochure, a website and a series of postcards. “We are primarily targeting blue chip clients and have a database of target companies in the office,” says Hornell.

Black is in an enviable position. It is doing well for a group primarily concerned with new media and is one of the biggest consultancies in Scotland. If the awards and burgeoning client list are anything to go by, there are plenty who agree on the high quality of Black’s output. Its client list includes Bank of Scotland, Scottish Life, City of Edinburgh Council, United Distillers, Bells Scotch Whisky and Coopers & Lybrand. And it has just won Scottish Mutual, a daughter company of Abbey National, as a new client.

It even seems well liked within the industry. Pure Design creative director Mick Dean, himself winner of Scottish Designer of the Year at The Drum awards, says: “Black is much more specialised than it was and has really come storming through in the last couple of years. I’m delighted for it.”

DBA in Scotland chairman Andrew Hunter says Black is at “the cutting edge of interactive media, showing Scotland is aware of the potential of new media”.

The task now is to expand business south of the border. The group established a London office in March, currently unstaffed but nonetheless providing a base to work from in London.

“We plan to open it properly and use it to win more business in London and the north of England. We wouldn’t consider doing production in London because we are settled in Edinburgh and there are cost advantages here,” says Hornell. He adds that new media, by its nature, lends itself better than other design disciplines to working wherever is most convenient.

Black is also looking to expand its commercial and technical capabilities, and took on three staff last week to boost its expertise in these areas. “We have largely looked at creative uses of technology so far. The next level is to make sure we are exploiting the clear business opportunities it offers,” says Black Internet services director Kenny Shaw.

“To keep ahead we need to make the most of truly interactive functions, such as electronic commerce. This requires highly skilled Web technicians and people with business acumen,” he adds.

Once again, Black has identified a gap in the market and is moving with the times.

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