Just rewards

Design is going through happier times financially than it has for many a year.

Government, both central and local (through regional development agencies), is backing design as a key to boosting the UK economically and to regenerating local communities. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has long been a fan since his days as Chancellor, but London mayor Ken Livingstone also paid tribute to the creative industries in the capital at the opening of the London Design Festival last month, saying he’d rather the world viewed London as a cultural, rather than simply a financial, centre.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as Designs of the Time in the North East (orchestrated by regional development ageny One North East and the Design Council), Six Cities in Scotland and design ventures in Cornwall, Cardiff and beyond have put design on the national agenda. Indeed, Scotland and Cornwall have emerged as contenders – possibly jointly – for the honour of hosting Dott 09.

Within the marketing services sector, too, design is gaining ground, reportedly beating advertising in winning influence with clients wanting to maximise the potential of consumer-facing businesses and to tap into a plethora of communications platforms. And it is being associated positively with key global issues such as sustainability.

Never has the belief in creativity as a solution for social and economic ills been so high, yet concerns have been expressed in the design world that creative quality in some areas has been lacking in recent months. Indeed, judges in key awards schemes such as those organised by Design Week and D&AD found it hard to give prizes in traditional sectors such as packaging and print this year.

It is customary to blame the client on these occasions, for short-sightedness and an unwillingness to risk new design approaches. But the blame must be shared by designers too timid to take the lead and invite the client, its products and services, and – through them – its customers, on a journey it hadn’t anticipated, with the conviction and confidence.

Consultancies such as WPP stablemates Coley Porter Bell and Enterprise IG strive to boost creativity within their teams – in these two instances, with the Blue Sky and Wow internal awards schemes respectively. Though these schemes do not count towards Design Week’s Creative Survey, they are a welcome move that other consultancies might follow to improve creativity across design.

There is strong evidence that the tide has turned over the past few months, particularly in packaging, since the damning awards results announced in spring, with clients giving lead consultancies a freer rein. The result tends to be a higher standard of creative work and this will hopefully show up in next year’s survey results. This year, though, a few sectors are flagging, due mainly to an apparent loss of confidence, or maybe to complacency by consultancies and clients.

Not so digital design, though. Judging by its strong showing in the Design Week Awards and by the D&AD Black Pencil going to RGA for its www.nikeplus.com site, this sector is taking off creatively in equal measure to its business success. With Poke co-founder Simon Waterfall now D&AD president, digital design and other integrated disciplines have a strong champion, and we can expect to see even greater things in these areas.

What we did

The Creative Survey listings are based on awards success. Those included in the charts are the design consultancies and in-house teams that have earned the most points through awards wins over the past 12 months.

The awards schemes covered are those with a strong reputation on the international stage for honouring creativity. Most are long-standing, but where appropriate we have added new awards into the mix.

Disciplines included cover the main interests of the majority of Design Week readers – graphics, branding, digital design, packaging, product design, interiors and exhibition design. We do not include architecture or fashion.

We have awarded points for wins and placings according to the system we have used over the past six surveys – see the table below for full details.

The charts are compiled from data supplied by the organisers of the various awards schemes, rather than by design consultancies, and rankings are based on points accrued over the past three years.

There are two main listings. The All Awards chart opposite takes account of performance in prominent awards, whether international, discipline-led or relating to a particular geographic location. It also includes personal awards such as the D&AD President’s Award and the Prince Philip Prize.

The UK chart  ranks consultancies and in-house teams according to their success in the UK’s two most prestigious schemes for design/ the Design Week Awards and the D&AD Awards.

The charts

Williams Murray Hamm has a reputation for creative quality. Always there with a witty design, beautifully executed, the London branding group prides itself on a client base that is looking to make a difference. Though it has worked for big corporate clients such as British Bakeries, with its award-winning Hovis packs, and McVitie’s, with its bold – if short-lived – slogan-led Jaffa Cakes packaging, it is with independents such as ice-cream company Hill Station, Fortnum & Mason and tea brand Clipper that WMH has made its mark.

At least, that was the case until the consultancy produced its outstanding work for Sainsbury’s own-brand So Organic range of foods. The packs cleaned up on the 2006 awards circuit, putting the consultancy at the top of the charts for creativity.

It has held on to top position in the chart recording all award wins this year (see page 11), ranking a respectable fifth with regard to D&AD and Design Week Awards (see page 12), and there is no indication that its standards might slip since it was bought by Loewy last year. Loewy chief executive Charlie Hoult has adopted a laissez faire attitude to his growing portfolio of high-profile design groups and is immensely proud of their creative qualities.

Indeed, it is going to take some doing for anyone to knock WMH off its perch, however it fares in the next round of awards. It will be hard to match the 245 points it has accumulated over the past three years through its proactive stance on awards, and no creative team – not even the mighty Apple Design Group – looks close to challenging its position. Given that branding and packaging are awash with award schemes and WMH is hungry for prizes, we can expect it to continue to lead.

Interestingly, though, of all WMH’s packaging and branding rivals, only Pearlfisher makes into the top ten for all award wins, with Elmwood just behind.

Significantly, both also do well in the effectiveness stakes (see page 35), proving that great design can make good business sense, too. In the table charting D&AD and DW Awards wins, no packaging and branding group comes close. This is partly because it has ‹ been a particularly lean year for top packaging awards, but it is good to see Ziggurat Brand Consultants and WPP’s Coley Porter Bell entering the all awards chart on the strength of packaging work.

Also floundering in awards terms this year is print. Though they cover a multitude of manifestations, from annual reports to direct mail, print categories made a very poor showing in the DW Awards this year – and fared no better at D&AD. Only DW’s Benchmarks awards for branding has managed to attract a consistently high standard of entrants in these categories over its three-year life.

But this hasn’t stopped creatively led consultancies such as GBH, Hat Trick Design, WPP star The Partners, NB Studio and awards stalwart Johnson Banks continuing to make the grade in the charts. All of these groups blend branding with print, as opposed to packaging, and excel in most of what they do. But it is often one client, or even one project, that guarantees their ranking in the charts.

GBH is one of several groups that has benefited from being on the roster of property developer Land Securities, while The Partners owes much of its recent awards success to its outstanding identity and words-driven campaign for London’s National Portrait Gallery. Enlightened clients such as these can bring out the best in creative groups and are invariably delighted to share in their awards success.

Print specialist Radley Yeldar, originally known for annual reports,‹ is back in the charts this year, and Edinburgh and London group Navy Blue makes its debut. It is great, too, to see communications design group SAS entering the All Awards charts in the wake of its sale to French marketing services group Publicis (DW 8 October).

GBH’s standing in the charts is reinforced by big awards wins a couple of years ago for its work for Eurostar lounges with French design guru Philippe Starck, who hangs on to his chart ranking purely on the strength of that work. Like Starck, Glasgow group Stand owes its position mainly to its prowess in one awards scheme – the 2005 Scottish Design Awards, where it netted five awards and three commendations, earning the Chairman’s Award for Design.

Interiors groups rarely fare well in the listings, with Casson Mann, architect Softroom (for its work on the Virgin Atlantic lounges), Thomas Heatherwick Studio and HMKM being among the very few to make the grade this year – and then, only in the UK awards chart. This is largely because there are so few awards covering the interiors market. Most awards schemes of merit in the sector are purely architectural.

The same is largely true of exhibition design. Casson Mann and Land Design Studio tend to be the stars here these days, though groups such as Met Studio and Imagination have featured in past listings.

Product and furniture, too, tend to be poor relations to, say, print and branding in the number of design awards there are. Again, of the independent consultancies, only Priestman Goode and Seymour Powell make it through to the DW Awards and D&AD chart. They ‹ feature alongside in-house teams at Apple and Sony, but Apple is the only product team represented in the All Awards listing.

Then there is digital design, which is attracting some of the best creative talent currently and making a killing in awards. In terms of digital specialists, Airside, All of Us, Poke, AKQA and Dunning Eley Jones on the broadcast front are among the most successful in awards terms, but with a host of small, highly creative teams out there, we can only hope that there will be more competition for honours as they begin to enter more awards.

Meanwhile, because the points are accumulated over three years, publishing houses Guardian Media Group and Emap Design remain in the charts on the strength of outstanding success with one project. These were, respectively, the redesign of The Guardian, led by Mark Porter, and the design of Grazia by founding art director Suzanne Sykes. They are joined by contract publisher John Brown Publishing, which has reclaimed the chart listing it achieved through Virgin Atlantic’s inflight magazine Carlos a few years ago through this year’s wins for the Dorling Kindersley book, Pick Me Up.

Like the Guardian and Emap teams, Channel 4/E4/Filmfour hangs in there mainly because of one project – the D&AD 2005 Black Pencil-winning Channel 4 idents, created by 4 Creative with Rodd Design.

Few in-house teams other than those in publishing and broadcast design make the grade in the Creative Survey. The most proficient in winning awards tend to be in product design – which has relatively few award schemes – but wins tend to be one-offs.

The big exception is Jonathan Ive’s Apple Design Group, which has notched up wins in all the major schemes and owes its ranking at the top end of both charts as much to Ive’s impressive array of individual honours as to its elegant and innovative products. We can only guess how its latest offering, the iPhone, will score in the next round of contests, but, judging by reactions to it within the industry, we can expect it to be a big hit with judges – assuming, of course, that Apple continues to enter its wares into creative contests. Certainly, there are few personal awards left for Ive to win. His trophy cabinet is already heaving.

The proliferation of regional awards schemes has made a huge difference to consultancies outside of London. The capital can no longer claim absolute prowess in the honours stakes.

Bristol’s Taxi Studio, Manchester’s Love Creative and The Chase (which also has a London office), and Elmwood in Leeds, Edinburgh, London and Melbourne in Australia, for example, are all serious contenders in national awards, particularly the DW prize schemes. But their scores are enhanced by awards such as the Scottish Design Awards, Cream and Fresh, included in our reckoning for the first time this year.

With an upturn in design’s economic performance generally this year and signs that creativity is returning to areas where it was lacking in tough times, we can expect greater things for the future. One interesting phenomenon will be how ad agencies fare in the creative listings, as they edge their way towards design. Groups like Fallon London are already claiming some awards success for design. It is all up for grabs.

Awards are but one measure of creativity – if you don’t enter you can’t win, and many chose not to compete. But they are a great way of building reputations and inspiring staff as they celebrate work that wins the attention of their peers in design. 

 Top 50 – All Awards

 Top 50 – Design Week and D&AD Awards

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