A new chapter

Digital is bridging the traditional disciplines of advertising and design, and emerging as a strong sector in its own right, driven by the growth in interactive installations and the launch of the iPad. As Lynda Relph-Knight explains, what better time to chart the financial health of this burgeoning industry?

Our decision to single out interaction design for special treatment in this survey was prompted by the massive inroads it has made into the wider creative community. Most things pertaining to design now have a digital, interaction element, and industry pundits of the calibre of WPP Group boss Sir Martin Sorrell project even greater growth over the coming months.

Interaction design has gone way beyond the website now, though it remains a crucial feature in the communications and general marketing mix. It is manifest in retail installations from windows to kiosks, in museums and galleries through interactive displays, in wayfinding and in sound and vision-based events. Games have played a big part in technological and aesthetic developments, and the iPad is set to piggyback the iPhone in promoting apps, online publications and other iterations of mobile communication.

Within the creative community, digital design has managed to form a bridge between design and advertising at a time when they have become arch rivals within the brand guardianship space. Ad agencies famously gave digital design for free or for preferential rates as part of the service to clients with which they have tenure, but that may be changing now that the ad world is feeling a greater pinch than even design as a result of the recession.

Such is the importance of interaction design now to both advertising and design communities that D&AD has decided on a three-way rotation for presidents. Where once it was an ad creative one year, then a designer the next, an interaction star has now been added to the mix with Simon ’Sanky’ Sankarayya, of award-winning consultancy All of Us, having taken on the presidency on 14 September.

You’d think with all this activity going on – and the huge potential yet to be fulfilled – that consultancies focusing purely on digital design would be ’out and proud’ about their achievements and abilities. But one of the key factors about them is their reticence to talk about figures.

Despite huge efforts on our part to extract simple, unaudited data about financial performance, we drew a blank from some of the more obvious contenders. For example, All of Us, Poke, The Bright Place (soon to create Design Week’s first app), Rumpus Room, Lateral and so on are all missing. But we have pressed ahead regardless, with the belief that you have to start somewhere.

The resulting Top Ten, published overleaf, is therefore not comprehensive. It is, though, a prelude to what we expect to be a much bigger trawl next year, when consultancies realise we are not practising a dark art in asking them to contribute information regarding their performance as businesses.

We have balanced the Top Ten table for purely digital groups, quoting data covering the 12 months to June 2010, with the Top 20 digital performers among multidisciplinary groups that entered the 2010 Design Week Top 100 Consultancy Survey. The data for that chart (see page 15) covers the 12 months to end-December 2009 and is backed by an auditor’s statement, so you are not comparing like for like when considering the two listings. But it gives a flavour of the spread of activity in digital, interactive design and provides a platform we can build on in the future.

Of course, the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation in the US – which disallows consultancies owned by publicly quoted concerns that have a strong American presence from publishing financial data that isn’t fully audited -applies in interaction as much as it does in any other sector. This means that the likes of WPP consultancies Digit and Good Technology can’t take part in our survey, even if the bulk of their business is handled through the UK. In our annual Top 100 survey we try, though, to incorporate the most up-to-date figures available for them at Companies House in London.

Next year, we hope to bring the disparate elements of interaction design together in a more comprehensive trawl. But don’t dismiss this year’s charts. They still contain data of great interest that can’t be gleaned elsewhere.

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