The buzz of activity

There are fewer designers featured this year, but those included show signs that the industry is picking up on the recovery which ad agencies have been enjoying for the past 12 months

SBHD: There are fewer designers featured this year, but those included show signs that the industry is picking up on the recovery which ad agencies have been enjoying for the past 12 months

THE exclusion of the bigger architects and design-and-build contractors from our 1995 Top 100 has made quite a difference to the listings this year. Add to this the decision of the BBC’s in-house graphics team not to take part and you have immediately lost 800 designers and ú67m in design fee-income from last year’s figures. The two studies are not directly comparable.

As before, the 1995 figures reflect the overseas offices of most design consultancies with interests abroad, the exception being Pentagram, which has fielded only its London staff for the purposes of our survey. The reappearance of Dragon this year in 13th position and the debut of Paris-based group Carre Noir (16th) with its 50 designers shows the strength of the French design contingent in international groups with a relatively small UK design contingent, and has an effect on the overall findings.

Then there are a number of important groups which have declined to take part this year, despite repeated invitations by our compilers. These include Michael Peters Ltd, which reported 25 designers last year, Lewis Moberly, which weighed in with 18 designers, and the 14-strong Siebert/Head, Seymour Powell and McBain Noel-Johnson.

As a result of these shifts, the Top 100 now comprises 103 consultancies, each of which employ eight or more designers. The total number of designers working full-time for Top 100 groups has dropped back to 2792 this year, from 3547 in the 1994 survey. But this is easily accounted for by the omissions cited above.

Furthermore, if you look only at the submissions of the 78 groups which also appeared in last year’s listing, the number of designers employed has gone up 9 per cent, from 2165 to 2362.

The same sort of comparison can be made between fee-income reported in this and the earlier trawl. On the face of it, total fee-income is down for Top 100 groups, from ú307m last year to ú298m this year. But if you focus only on groups featuring in both charts, you see a 10 per cent rise in fees from ú222m in 1994 to ú245m this year.

These two findings are positive indicators of growth. And that growth looks set to continue, with consultancies’ projections for an average 16 per cent growth up 3 per cent on last year, suggesting that the feel-good factor is starting to return to the design industry. It is also encouraging to see that most consultancies exceeded the fee-income projections they published last year. Most of the top 20 groups comfortably exceeded their expectations. With few exceptions – including Fitch and Holmes & Marchant, both publicly quoted companies, and Minale Tattersfield – signs are that design is starting to take advantage of the recovery which ad agencies have been experiencing for the past 12 months.

SBHD: Ranking

There are few major shifts at the top of the chart as consultancies re-adjust to the omission of architects such as last year’s no 1 RMJM, though some pick up the odd point on the way. BDG/McColl moves from third last year to poll position this year, just one ahead of Fitch, which holds on to second position. Cambridge Consultants leapfrogs Minale Tattersfield to make it into the top three.

Increased design staffs at Addison and Imagination mean an upward shift for both groups. Addison moves up two places to 6th and Imagination’s 12 new recruits take the company from 11th last year to 7th this year. But the biggest climber at the top of the chart is Interbrand. Now part of Omnicom, the international identity specialist has jumped 20 places to 13th position, with 131 per cent growth in design staff, mainly as a result of merging its New York business with Schechter at the beginning of this year.

However, the most significant movements are lower down the listings, with a number of consultancies making great strides forward. Of these, London graphics group Worthington has made the biggest leap – up 35 places to joint 24th with a staggering 87 per cent boost to its design team (Table A).

Significant newcomers to the Top 100 charts include Desgrippes Cato Gobe Group, which boasts 78 designers over five countries and takes 8th place. Dragon returns at 13th position with 60 designers worldwide and, as we’ve mentioned, French group Carre Noir is 16th with 50 designers.

One could argue that global groups such as these do not represent UK design. It is, however, increasingly difficult to be so nationalistic about what is essentially an international business. Unless fees and turnover are calculated on a country-by-country basis, you can’t paint a wholly UK picture for such businesses, especially regarding enterprises such as Dragon, where resources are genuinely pooled across the various international offices to service different clients.

Also developing strongly is architecture and interiors group Pringle Brandon, in at 29 with 25 designers, probably because it has recently started to target its PR at the design press. GD and O Torres Brend is in at 39 with 18 designers. RPA Europe, led creatively by one-time Fitch director and former Imagination interiors head Michael Howard, and Precept are in at joint 47 with 16 designers. Then there’s multidisciplinary group Level 6 of Stevenage, Hertfordshire, also with 16 designers.

Quite a few groups have stepped up into the Top 100 from the lower rankings because, for all the reasons already given, it takes fewer designers to qualify this time. It was necessary to have ten designers last year, but only eight this.

But there are a few at the lower end of the charts which have made it because of rapid growth over the past 12 months (Table B).

The onset of the recovery marks a good time for some of the younger businesses to establish themselves, while the bigger players are often hamstrung by debt and high overheads. A new set of young, ambitious design leaders, which are creating the design brands of the future, is beginning to emerge. These people understand the place of new technology and the need not only to take on talented staff, but to generate profits to recruit, train and keep them. These are the groups on the up in terms of staff numbers.

But there are those, particularly in interiors, which have dropped full-time staff this year. Our listing doesn’t show if the shortfall is covered by an increased use of freelance designers on a project basis (Table C).

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