Editor’s blog

  • High-profile start-ups
  • Identity projects
  • Studio talks

We are reminded this week of one of the upsides of recession for design. Economic strife may put the squeeze on consultancies, particularly those at the top end in terms of size and global reach, but it also results in high profile start-ups that set the tone for the next generation.

Some of these are forced by redundancy, but others come about when key players decide they want to move out of the financially pressured ‘owned’ groups to go independent. What it means is that the start-up hits the ground running, with all the passion setting up your own business brings coupled with the ability to deal at top level with corporate clients – or at least to apply that rigorous approach to all its projects.

Wolff Olins breakaways Dave and Venture Three came about this way, as did the Interbrand-spawned Figtree and more recent group The Clearing, which opened its doors in March when Jonathan Hubbard, Andy Howell and Pete Dewar joined forces with former Interbrand colleague Richard Buchanan.

This week we saw the completion of one of The Clearing’s first projects (DW 15 July) – branding for The Katie Piper Foundation, the charity set up by the former model who suffered an acid attack to support burns rehabilitation – and the quality of the work bodes well for the consultancy’s future.

Katie Piper and The Clearing
Katie Piper and The Clearing

Figtree meanwhile held one of its regular studio lunches in which outsiders – in this case me – are invited in to share ideas and experiences with the team. These things are invariably enjoyable and stimulating, not just to the hosts, but also to the guest and it’s always an honour to be invited.

This was certainly the case at Figtree – a lively, eclectic mix of people doing great work for the likes of mobile phone company HTC and the Orange/T-Mobile link up Everything Everywhere, differentiated by an identity featuring Plasticine lettering. It is no wonder that the consultancy formed in 2004 with offices now in London, Paris and Hong Kong was one of the top tips in the 2010 Design Week Top 100 survey.

Everything Everywhere branding by Figtree
Everything Everywhere branding by Figtree

A similar stint at The Brand Union last night meanwhile enabled me to share my insight into South African design, gleaned over many visits there, with the team at The Brand Union. Again, I learned as much as the audience did, from their experiences of South Africa and other emerging nations.

It was heartening to hear what The Brand Union executive creative director Glenn Tutssel had had to say that morning at the latest Designer Breakfast (DW Blog, 15 July) and that he has similar speaking gigs arranged for consultancies such as Holmes & Marchant. And he is not alone in doing the rounds of consultancies when invited.

It is great to know that the design community is still prepared to pull together and share knowledge and debate in the face of economic adversity. This openness even with would-be rivals is a strength the industry can build on and an attribute that sets it apart from so many, more cut-throat sectors.

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