Hive of industry

This is the tenth Design Week survey which sets out to chart the fortunes of the movers and groovers in the design industry. The 1995 survey is once again broken down by staff size, with groups of eight or more designers featured this week and smaller gro

SBHD: This is the tenth Design Week survey which sets out to chart the fortunes of the movers and groovers in the design industry. The 1995 survey is once again broken down by staff size, with groups of eight or more designers featured this week and smaller groups next

DESIGN WEEK’s Top 100 listing once again traces the performance of businesses in the sector through a trawl of mainly graphics, interiors and product design groups.

The survey remains the only one of its kind, and although appearance in the charts is purely voluntary, the findings are recognised as an authoritative source of data on the design industry in the UK. Most of the groups taking part are UK-based or have significant British subsidiaries, but the increasing globalisation of design means that the charts include a significant number of consultancies with design teams working abroad.

The 1995 listings were compiled following a survey of UK design groups to establish their staffing and financial positions for the 12 months to end-December 1994. The findings are taken from a questionnaire, published in Design Week on 27 January, which prompted 167 responses.

We cannot claim to be comprehensive. Entry into the listings is largely at the discretion of the groups involved. But we have made considerable effort to extract full details from as many design groups as possible. Omissions among the major players are very few, with most having given full financial data this year.

We aim to be consistent in our presentation of the results, to allow for year-on-year comparison between consultancies. This year, however, we have made a few radical changes that should be taken into account when comparisons are made.

Most significantly, we have excluded entries from big architectural firms, such as last year’s chart-topper RMJM, YRM and Percy Thomas Partnership. While many of these practices do some interior design, graphics or product work, the bulk of their workload relates to major building projects. This means they have architectural staffs and fees that are out of proportion with those for mainstream design, because of the size of the projects. Including their details can paint an over-optimistic picture of the design industry.

By the same token, we have excluded some of the main print shops and shopfitters, whose core business is not concerned with design, although they may have a small design studio. These are not, in our view, design consultancies per se, despite their offer of design services.

With these omissions, the Top 100 chart published in this issue includes 103 groups, each employing eight or more designers. It is again based on the size of consultancies’ creative teams – the greater the number of designers employed full-time, the higher a design group’s ranking. Details of smaller, often more specialist groups will be published next week.

Like all methods of evaluation, the size approach has its pitfalls. It does not, for example, take account of the regular use of freelance designers. But to base the survey on other factors such as fee-income or turnover may, we maintain, be less reliable. Designers tend to be coy about such information or confuse turnover with design fee-income, and even where data is supplied we generally have no auditor’s statement to back it.

We rely on the co-operation, honesty and integrity of the groups involved and accommodate their various accounting systems. We do, however, publish details of financial performance where it is available, and include it in our analyses to provide as accurate a picture as possible of design industry fortunes.

We have also pinpointed the more productive firms whose fee-income per designer ranks above the rest, but we have changed the way we evaluate efficiency this year. The tables presented on page 37 show efficiency in terms of design fee-income per full-time staff member.

Analysis of this year’s findings has been conducted with the help of Ian Cochrane of London management consultancy Ticegroup.

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