Measure of success

Clients can’t afford to cut back on creativity as a recession bites, making it a good time to celebrate the design teams which have consistently achieved awards success for the quality of their work, says Lynda Relph-Knight

It is hard to escape the dreaded phrase ‘credit crunch’ these days. It is affecting all our lives, within and outside design, with uncertainty travelling in its wake.

It will inevitably impact on consultancy workloads. Some clients might take more projects in-house, or simply put them on hold, while others might bring in smaller groups – possibly start-ups from bigger consultancies that have rationalised their teams. Projects may reduce in size and scope, as budgets are re-evaluated, and some will be lost completely.

But it might not all be that bad in the short term, as client businesses seek to communicate and clarify shifts in their offer or fortunes. This could bring lucrative design work for groups of all sizes, as the mighty Wolff Olins found in an earlier recession – if, indeed, that is what we are heading for – when, in the days before ‘branding’ was the word being bandied about by all players, it shifted its offer from full-blown corporate identity to include a review of a client’s literature suite and other collateral.

Moves such as these help everyone. The client learns to look at things in a different way and the consultancy not only proves its worth to that client, reinforcing the importance of building relationships for mutual benefit, but could develop different, equally creative skills.

Many UK consultancies have already bolstered themselves against any local hardships through a migration to overseas work. Dubai, Moscow, Mumbai and the Far East remain profitable for many, and while the doom-mongers of the financial sector are predicting world recession, spreading your interests can pay off.

For start-ups and consultancies outside of London, the coming months could be particularly good, if they keep their wits about them. Serial design champions like property developer Land Securities and the supermarket chains are reportedly looking for value in terms of reduced fees, which they maintain can more often be had outside the M25 or from smaller design groups, without compromising quality.

So, quality of creative output – and of client service – remains high, whatever the latest economic shifts may bring. And it is that quality that we celebrate here.

Design luminary Sir John Sorrell has gone so far as to say that designers do better in a downturn than in more clement times, in that it brings out the best in them. Clients still need to show a point of difference in their products and services, and social concerns never go away. It is a question of bringing a designer’s innate ingenuity to bear and putting consumer needs first.

The impact of all this has yet to kick in and certainly doesn’t show in this year’s crop of award-winners. There have been signs in some awards schemes this year that creative risk-taking hit a lull in the previous 12 months, resulting in work that was admirably competent, but didn’t raise the bar.

We can hope for better in the months to come, regardless of the economic situation. It will be particularly interesting to see what new standards overseas projects may set, given the cultural differences involved.

Meanwhile, it is time to pause and celebrate those design consultancies and in-house teams that are consistent in the quality of the work they produce and take pride in entering – and winning – creative awards. Those teams are honoured in our various awards tables, marking cumulative awards success over the past three years.

WHAT WE DID :
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. 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 2008, 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 standing 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 this year, 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 9) takes account of performance in prominent awards, whether international, discipline-led 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 (see page 11) 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 (see pages 15-19). This year we have also singled out in-house teams that have made a real impact on awards over the past three years, in their own right or in collaboration with external consultancies (see pages 21-22).

Winners of the Design Business Association’s Design Effectiveness Awards are listed separately on page 35 because, while these are highly prestigious, they are based on the commercial success of the project, rather than the quality of the creative work.

The Charts 2008
There is no stopping Apple Design Group, with a bevy of outstanding products year-on-year winning most top creative accolades. The unprecedented success of the iPhone last year has tipped the balanced at the top of both main charts in this year’s survey to guarantee Jonathan Ive’s San Francisco team pole position in both. And it’s unlikely to end there, with a host of highly desirable products released last month, in time for this year’s round of awards judging.

But, while the design ethic that runs throughout Steve Jobs’ business is exemplary, all credit must this year be due to challengers such as The Partners, Williams Murray Hamm and Love, which are giving the global giant a good run for its money from a far less lofty base.

The Partners is one of the real heroes of this year’s survey, ranking second in both main charts. Once, in its pre-WPP days, it could expect to top any creative listing and, indeed, did until it was ousted in the Design Week stakes by the much smaller Johnson Banks.

It has always hovered around the top, but is back in full force now. This is largely due to work for enlightened clients such as toilet cubicle manufacturer Thrislington Cubicles and The National Gallery in London, for which it produced an outstanding word-based identity in 2005 on which it has built ever since.

It is a truly creative piece for The National Gallery that has boosted The Partners’ standing in the charts this year. Taking art on to the streets through the gallery’s Grand Tour, in collaboration with the gallery and Hewlett-Packard, won it, among other accolades, not only a Design Week Award but D&AD Gold – or should we now say Black? An interesting feature here is that the Black Pencil was won in an advertising category, though the concept and execution are, to our minds, pure design at its best.

Though The Partners is consistent in its creative quality, its rise up the charts through The National Gallery projects shows the difference one client – or in many cases, one piece of work – can make.

Philippe Starck’s equal 24th position in the UK Awards listing, for example, still owes much to the Eurostar first-class lounges the French master created with London graphics group GBH some six years ago. His score was topped up in 2006 when he was awarded the President’s Medal by then D&AD president Dick Powell. He just doesn’t usually enter the awards we cover.

Buddy, meanwhile, is likely to. The start-up, ranked equal 32nd in the All Awards charts, owes its standing largely to its debut project. The beautifully executed black-and-white branding for Cornish • Mill & Bakehouse won it Best of Show in last year’s Benchmarks and earned points in both the Design Week and D&AD awards. With their creative pedigree, we can expect more from the trio who have an obvious hunger for producing great work and winning awards.

For most of the other contenders in the top ten of either chart, consistency is what brings them glory, year after year. There are no real surprises, though it is always interesting that all are specialists in their respective fields and don’t draw on awards in a number of disciplines.

Worth singling out, though, is Love. The Manchester group goes from strength to strength, competing on a national level for prizes where most of its local rivals stick to awards such as the Roses Design Awards that don’t cover the whole of the UK. That said, Love owes its fourth place in the All Awards chart to an accumulation of points from smaller local schemes, having won Best of Show in the Roses this year, as well as a host of category prizes.

Other non-London groups doing well include: The Chase, which has offices in Manchester, London and Preston; True North, Mark Studio and Like a River in Manchester; Edinburgh, London and Budapest group Navyblue, which now has serious international intentions; and Elmwood, with offices in Leeds, Edinburgh, London, Melbourne and, now, New York. If you thought the best talent resided in the capital, you need to think again. These groups constitute more than a third of consultancies featured in the top 20 for All Awards.

A significant factor about most of the contenders from the regions – and, indeed, for most groups featured in the charts – is that, with the exception of The Chase, which was bought by marketing services group Hasgrove in 2006, they are independent consultancies.

There are other notable exceptions within London, not least the WPP-owned group The Partners, which has returned to creative form completely in the wake of the deal that took it first into ownership by advertising agency Young & Rubicam and within days, as its new parent was similarly acquired, into WPP. There was a wobble – inevitable, when all eyes are on the business aspects of a deal – but the recovery is complete.

Branding star Williams Murray Hamm, meanwhile, hasn’t faltered in the awards stakes since its takeover by the acquisitive Loewy Group in 2006. The hands-off approach of that particular parent company has paid off for the highly creative groups in its stable. Let’s hope that continues as the management changes mooted by new chief executive Iain Johnston and the management team kick in in the wake of the departure of the visionary Charlie Hoult. •

Other ‘owned’ groups in the charts are SAS, owned now by Publicis Groupe, Wolff Olins, which tends to do well in Design Week’s Benchmarks awards for branding programmes, and Omnicom stablemate Interbrand, as well as WPP’s Coley Porter Bell and Fitch.

Then there are the in-house teams. Apple Design Group may reign supreme, but Virgin Atlantic, Guardian Media Group, Channel Four and its team at 4Creative, John Brown Publishing, Sony and Emap Design all figure in the charts. Their importance is such that this year we have given them a separate listing, which we hope will build over time.

We acknowledge that the awards system is only one way of measuring creativity. You have to enter to be considered for an honour, and not all groups have that culture.

Take the admirable Graphic Thought Facility, North, Neville Brody’s Research Studios and Farrow Design. All graphics-based, they have won awards over the years, but tend not to enter, yet who would doubt their creative prowess?

There is, too, the imbalance in awards available to various disciplines. Graphics and branding groups can take their pick from awards across the globe – and UK design tends to do well in them. Digital design awards are increasing, but tend to be tangled up with advertising prizes, so lack the prominence of pure design schemes. Nonetheless, quirky digital groups Airside and Poke, and broadcast design specialists Red Bee Media and Dunning Eley Jones make it through. All credit to them.

But it is not as easy for designers in product, furniture or interiors. There are fewer awards, and those there are in interiors tend to be run by rival magazines and, therefore, aren’t included, so it is harder to amass points, despite the huge success of the likes of Apple Design Group. Congratulations are due, therefore, to awards stalwarts Land Design Studio and Casson Mann, largely for their exhibition design prowess, and to Seymour Powell and Pearson Lloyd for at least taking on Apple Design Group in the UK Awards chart.

Bubbling under are Universal Design Studio and Softroom on the interiors front, with Barber Osgerby the unsung hero, in terms of chart success, in product and furniture design.

However unfair they can be, though, awards give everyone an opportunity to celebrate great design. The winners give a snapshot of a year in creativity, they help bond teams, attract great staff and, we’re told, clients love them. It is about winning, but that can’t be achieved without taking part, so we urge you to go for it next year, whatever the economic downturn brings.

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