Points of interest

Far from reflecting the effects of the recession, our annual round-up shows an industry in good health creatively. Long-term client relationships and a focus on local projects have paid off for UK groups, while digital and service design continue to make inroads on all sectors. Lynda Relph-Knight reports

We Weren’tsure what to expect from this year’s Design Week Creative Survey. The ravages of recession have taken their toll on the consultancy world, with constrained client budgets and reduced workloads, and we thought they might compromise creative quality or limit entries into award schemes the tables are based on.

In the event, we need not have worried. The charts are as healthy as ever, with a handful of projects catapulting a number of groups to success.

Top among these is The Partners, which has beaten Jonathan Ive’s mighty Apple Design Group into second place in the All Awards charts, having held second position for a couple of years. Outstanding Partners projects recognised here include The Grand Tour for the National Portrait Gallery, which brought art to the streets in London and beyond, and identities for the luxury, five-star Connaught Hotel in London’s Mayfair on the one hand to the humble Eagle Clean on the other.

There is a wonderful symmetry to this year’s result, in that when we started the Creative Survey in the 1990s, The Partners was top. That was before it was acquired by global marketing services giant WPP in 2000 via a deal with Young & Rubicam, which had bought it earlier that year. Its return to the top shows that creativity isn’t the sole province of the independent groups – though they do dominate the charts. You can be big in global terms and still turn out great work.

The Partners’ success also demonstrates the power of long-term client relationships. The Grand Tour, for example, followed on from a words-driven identity programme for the NPG.

It also shows that UK clients can still be persuaded to go the distance creatively. The Partners has produced great work for overseas clients, such as New York department store Saks of Fifth Avenue, but you couldn’t get much more English than The Connaught and the NPG.

Indeed, UK work has led to chart success for many high-flyers, The Chase, Love and Williams Murray Hamm, now part of the Loewy stable, among them. Several have benefited hugely from the patronage of cultural institutions, notably Hat-Trick Design with the Natural History Museum and True North with its work on the Gustav Klimt exhibition for Tate Liverpool. Social welfare institutions such as the Salvation Army and Christian Aid have meanwhile also commissioned great design, with Hat-Trick and Johnson Banks respectively being the chief beneficiaries in these instances.

You can’t beat good old commercial work, though, to really show what design can do. It’s a tough call to persuade some clients that the investment is worthwhile, but when it succeeds it is outstanding.

Sometimes an enlightened client is a multinational business. Take Coca-Cola, which entrusted Anglo- American group Turner Duckworth with a major rebranding job that has won top accolades this year. But more often these days it is local, as GBH and others have found with property developer Land Securities.

This year we have chosen not to chart design effectiveness success in this supplement. Creating design that makes the business case is fundamentally important – and this was reiterated in citations for shortlisted contenders for the Prince Philip Designers Prize this year, which spoke of both their business success and their creative achievements. But this survey is about creativity, intending to raise aspirations in designers and clients alike about the quality of work that can be achieved. While winners of the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards invariably tick the commercial box, the creative content isn’t always outstanding.

What we did:
As in previous years, the Creative Survey listings are based on the success enjoyed by largely UK consultancies and in-house design teams in the main creative awards across a range of design disciplines.

Increasingly, it involves international prize schemes, but fundamentally the listings represent UK success. Graphics, branding, digital design, product and furniture design, exhibitions and interior design are the main thrust, with architecture and fashion prizes excluded from our trawl.

We have awarded points for wins and placings for awards announced before 31 October 2009, according to a system used throughout the annual surveys we have published to date. See the table below for full details. Most of the awards are long-standing, but any new schemes of an appropriate status have been added into the system.

The charts are compiled from data provided by the organisers of the relevant awards. Rankings are based on points accrued over the past three years. Some schemes have changed their awards systems in the past couple of years, but we have aimed to give each the same weighting as before, so that the results are comparable year-on-year.

The charts comprise two main listings. The All Awards chart (see page 14) takes account of performance in prominent awards, whether international, disciplineled or those relating, like the Scottish Design Awards and the Roses Design Awards, to a specific geographical location. It also includes personal awards, such as the D&AD President’s Award and appointment as a Royal Designer.

The UK Awards chart ranks consultancies and in-house teams according to their success in the UK’s two biggest award schemes honouring creative excellence: the Design Week Awards and D&AD Awards.

We also rank consultancies according to their awards prowess in particular disciplines.. This year we have also singled out in-house teams that have made a real impact in awards over the past three years, in their own right or in collaboration with external consultancies.

The Charts 2009:
There is no doubt that branding, packaging and print work scores most highly in awards. Just glance at the top half of the table covering all prize schemes and you will find all the famous names listed there.

This isn’t because designers in these fields are necessarily more creative than their counterparts in other disciplines. It is that there are so many more awards catering for specialists in these areas – and because consultancies are closer to the commercial frontline in these highly competitive fields, they are more inclined to enter awards that give them a point of difference against their rivals.

These are also the groups more likely to cross over with ad agencies these days – or to be advertising-biased and also handle design, as is the case with London groups Fallon and This is Real Art. For the ad world, awards have a special meaning and can mean promotion or cash bonuses for those behind award-winning work.

It will be a while before this scenario transfers to design – if, indeed, it ever does – but the edges are blurring significantly between the disciplines now. To reflect this, we changed the nature of the Design Week Benchmarks this year, to take in not just branding programmes across an array of market sectors, but short-term campaigns that enhance the brand as well. This isn’t yet affecting the tables, as this supplement has been published ahead of the Benchmarks award celebration next month, but it could have a big impact in the future.

The edges are also blurred these days between consultancies handling branding projects and those carrying out corporate identity programmes. It all tends to get lumped together under branding, whether the work is for a commodity or ‘brand’, or for a business conglomerate or corporation. We ask participants in the survey to separate out their workload for the purposes of the tables, but there is inevitably quite a bit of overlap between the two, particularly as both demand a considerable degree of strategy and not just one-off print, packaging or digital work.

In the past, top groups handling branding and print tended to be London-based – or comprise former Glasgow School of Art alumni in Scotland’s second city – but over the years that has changed significantly. Cities like Manchester, Leeds and Bristol now field consultancies of national standing in terms of the quality of their work – and often with international clients and outposts.

Among the top of these are The Chase, with offices in Manchester, Preston and London, and the smaller True North and Mark Studio, which are also Manchesterbased. Work such as Mark Studio’s Wigan Little Theatre project, in particular, wowed the judges at the Design Week Awards and made the ‘book’ at D&AD.

A couple of high fliers may have heritage in UK offices outside the capital, while also developing an international base. Elmwood, for example, still counts Leeds as its epicentre, despite having offices in Edinburgh and London in the UK. But with offices also in Melbourne, New York and, most recently, Chicago, and an aggressive expansion plan to be masterminded by incoming global president Eliot Schreiber, it is only a matter of time before it hits the creative awards scene with work created abroad – or focused on its overseas markets.

International projects have long been the province of industrial design consultancies, with the likes of Priestman Goode boosting the UK’s reputation for producing great creative work by winning major jobs in China and elsewhere. Unlike branding groups, they are less constrained in gaining overseas work through the expansion abroad of UKbased clients and more likely to work directly with clients based outside the UK.

They are, though, less likely to enter the few awards schemes open to them and, therefore, don’t figure much in the league tables. Significantly, the product chart is topped by in-house design teams and clients – the magnificent Apple Design Group, design stalwart Virgin Atlantic Airways and newcomer Funnelly Enough, which won Best of Show in the Design Week Awards for its debut product Peezy, which makes it easier for women to give urine samples.

Interestingly, two individual designers complete the line-up in the product chart this year. As a result, Pearson Lloyd and Seymour Powell are relegated from the specialist listings.

Matt Dent, a director of London branding group Three Fish in a Tree, shot to fame for his reverse designs for UK coins. The self-initiated designs for the coins won an open competition organised by the Royal Mint and went on to net D&AD Black and Yellow Pencils for Dent, earning him 35 points in the process.

Andrew Ritchie of Brompton Bicycles also owes his chart success to one particular honour. In his case, it is the award of the prestigious Prince Philip Designers Prize for the design of the Brompton folding bicycle, bestowed on him by the prince at Buckingham Palace last month, which earned him a high ranking here. In entering the charts, he joins the list of in-house designers that help to make British design great.

Digital design is growing apace as a driver of innovation and workload in design. Crossing over disciplines as diverse as branding, broadcasting and experiential design, it is sometimes hard to classify within the confines of awards schemes. Award-winning work might still comprise a website – the digital equivalent of a brochure, really – but it is likely to go way beyond that now to be an integral part of a wider strategy or programme. Check out the vast number of consultancies claiming it as a discipline they cover in the main charts.

This diversity is reflected to some extent in the specialism charts, with prolific broadcast star Red Bee Media topping the tables with a healthy majority. Poke is part of ad agency Mother. AKQA is a more traditional digital consultancy, though it has developed specialisms in social media and virals alongside its website portfolio. E4 is the design arm of broadcaster Channel 4, in the charts mainly on the strength of the idents created in 2004 with Rudd Studio, which won D&AD Gold. Moving Brands is an energetic young consultancy, often working alongside bigger branding groups such as Landor Associates on the digital content of a branding programme.

Red Bee Media is the former BBC commercial arm, now hived off and owned by Australian conglomerate Macquarie Capital Alliance Group. It is well placed to win BBC work still, but is also commissioned by other networks. Among its main successes over the past couple of years has been work on UKTV’s lads’ channel Dave, which won a host of accolades last year.

Interiors and exhibitions consultancies are perceived as the poor relations of design awards, in the way that we assess them for the purposes of this chart. Beyond the Design Week Awards and D&AD – which tends to be lukewarm in its treatment of interiors – there are few award schemes that aren’t organised by rival magazines, and so they are not included in this listing.

It means they can earn fewer points than, say, branding groups, so they don’t figure much in the main charts. It is not surprising, therefore, to find bigger concerns -Virgin Atlantic and the multidisciplinary Fitch – at the top of the specialist charts. Virgin Atlantic owes its success mainly to two projects: the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at London Heathrow Airport and the more recent staff training facility by the now defunct Universal Design Studio. Fitch, meanwhile, had huge success with projects such as automotive parts retailer HiQ and a raft of overseas retail jobs, and Muma, Sketch and Thomas Heatherwick Studio make the grade on the strength of one main project.

Sadly, no exhibition specialists feature in the charts this year. The likes of Casson Mann, Imagination and Event Communications had a slim year for awards. The field is more diverse now, with interaction design playing a more important part and often being judged in digital awards categories. The blurring of edges in this way is affecting awards significantly, and all the key ones might be expected to change their categories to accommodate these shifts. It is, after all, about rewarding the best work, whatever its nature.

Advertising and interaction are key crossovers for a number of more traditional design disciplines, but there are new categories emerging, too. Writing is catered for by D&AD and is taken into account by Design Week juries looking more holistically at print or packaging projects, and wayfinding is now acknowledged as a separate entity in the Design Week Awards, with a number of consultancies following the lead of Applied Information Group in this area.

The big one yet to come is service design – the often intangible use of designthinking to shape a company or organisation, promoted by consultancies such as Ideo, Live Work and the like, and fundamental to Government-backed initiatives such as Designs of the Time. It being a relatively new thing, it’s too early to assess the results of many schemes, as their effectiveness cannot be measured in the same way as other creative pursuits. But its day will surely come.

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