DW top 100 design groups

A change in the definition of eligible consultancies has changed the face of the Top 100. The new listing has lowered the required number of designers and redefined the scope of design consultancies

SBHD: A change in the definition of eligible consultancies has changed the face of the Top 100. The new listing has lowered the required number of designers and redefined the scope of design consultancies

THE charts look very different this year, with WPP-offshoot BDG/McColl taking the lead for the first time with a design staff of 142. The consultancy’s leap from third position in our 1994 listing is because of the way we have done things this year.

We have rooted out the architectural megagroups, not that we think any less of architecture, but because they are neither typical of design as covered by Design Week nor represented by the design industry’s official bodies.

Had we included the company this year, RMJM would again have taken the top slot with 294 staff.

We have also omitted a group entry for WPP for the second year running, letting each of its design interests take their allotted places in the charts. Again all five made it into the Top 100, with 251 designers between them.

Positioning in the charts compared with 1994 therefore counts for slightly less, though comparing staff levels and the financial status of individual groups year-on-year still throws up some useful insights into the current state of the design industry.

BDG/McColl’s dominance with just one more staff member than last year shows that this largely interiors concern has at last found stability, following the merger of the then Business Design Group with ailing WPP stablemate McColl some two years ago. However, it leads the field by only one designer now that global group Fitch has 141 designers worldwide compared with 125 last year. It may appear unfair to compare the strengths of international groups like Fitch with solely UK traders, but as long as their position is clear, comparisons are valid. Design has, after all, always been international, and many UK groups have survived recession by taking work abroad, even if they haven’t actually opened offices overseas.

Some consultancies ranking high in our size charts do, however, depend mainly on non-UK design teams. Dragon, for example, weighs in at 13 with a massive total of 60 designers. Most of these operate from Paris. As for Carre Noir, ranked 16th with 50 designers, hardly any of its people are UK-based.

Similarly, Desgrippes Cato Gobe (8th) and identity hot-shop Interbrand (13th) both have a huge US presence. Euro RSCG Design, the French parent of RSCG Conran, has fielded an international total of 112 designers to support its claim to fifth place.

The fortunes of Benoy, one-time architectural arm of Fitch, continue to improve. Now ranked 15th with 57 designers out of a total of 76 staff, the architecture, interiors and retail group has edged up from its position last year, adding 13 designers.

Last year we noted a downturn in fortunes for Addison, recording a drop of 40 design jobs even before the closing of its 35-strong retail arm. This year it has shifted up slightly, claiming five more designers than last year’s worldwide total of 100.

Minale Tattersfield picked up several members of Addison’s former retail team, but it has dropped back this year, with 125 design staff compared with 140 in 1994.

Our “ones to watch” last year included creative supergroups The Partners and Lewis Moberly. The former has edged up slightly in size, adding two designers to bring the team up to 25 – not bad going these days, especially when design fees are also up a bit on inflation, from ú1.9m in 1994 to ú2.1m this year.

Sadly, Lewis Moberly hasn’t entered this time.

Structural packaging is a growth area for design and it is probably this that contributes to the continuing rise of Design Bridge, the London pack specialist which added Design Bridge Structural to the stable a year or so ago. Whatever the reason, it has added six designers this year to bring its total to 35, and turnover is up from ú6m to ú7m, with design fees rising from ú4.4m to ú5.2m.

Also on the move is events group Imagination, with design staff up 12 to 88 and design fees up to ú13.1m on a turnover of ú37.7m (compared with ú11.3m on turnover of ú32m last year). But it will be interesting to see what changes occur with this slightly offbeat outfit as changes at board level lead to a shift back to showbusiness and away from mainstream design for much of its operation.

Lower down the charts there’s lots of movement this year, with teams of only eight designers eligible for entry, compared to consultancies with teams of ten that qualified for Top 100 listing in 1994. This also reflects the leaner teams and greater freelance opportunities in design, detected by Design Week’s separate surveys of trends and employment opportunities.

In total, the 103 groups listed here employ 2792 designers: over half of them (1568) are employed in the top 20. The total number of jobs reported by Top 100 groups is 4996.

Combined fee-income for the groups giving figures this year is just under ú300m. Turnover is closer to ú500m.

Many groups have lived up to their own expectations for the year, with those venturing a percentage for growth during 1994 largely meeting their targets or surpassing them. This year’s barometer of optimism registers an average 16 per cent growth expected during 1995, compared with 13 per cent last year.

Most groups seem to be looking for a 10 per cent increase. Leicester consultancy Checkland Kindleysides, graphics groups Siegel & Gale, BGC Communications and Harrington Andrews Reed Parham all predict 50 per cent growth, and Jarvis White is going for 100 per cent.

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