Balancing creativity with commercial sense is key

If Willott Kingston Smith’s latest pronouncements about the marketing services sector are representative, we can take heart in the future of design, in the UK at least.

Design may not be flavour of the month for acquisitions, according to industry pundits, but the top groups have put in a better performance this year than for some time. With average operating profits up 10 per cent on last year, we are, says WKS partner Mandy Merron, back on track.

As the WKS findings are drawn only from the performance of the top 30 design and branding groups, they might not ring true for you though if you are in interiors or product design, neither of which figure at the top end. They tend to involve smaller businesses than branding groups, and margins are traditionally tight.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that interiors groups in particular are still feeling the pinch – and with even retail design giant Fitch reporting declining profits it isn’t surprising. Retail is depressed and architects are edging into other interiors areas.

But the report is nonetheless good news, and with digital design in the ascendancy, expect more digital bolt-ons by the bandwagon-chasing branding groups. There is still a long way to go, however. On the business side, Merron cautions that few consultancies are hitting the £80 000-£100 000 gross income per head that is the benchmark for productivity. Meanwhile, creative standards overall could do with a boost.

Help is at hand with the latter at least. This week sees the opening of Alan Fletcher’s posthumous show at London’s Design Museum and the publication by Phaidon of his last book, Picturing and Poeting. Later this month, a host of new Royal Designers receive their honours under the eye of Mike Dempsey. Inspiring stuff!

Blending the creativity these masters display with the commercial nous of the top financial players is what all in design should aspire to. It’s about getting the balance right.

Lynda Relph-Knight – editor, Design Week

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