This article is taken from the Design Week Top 100 supplement.
Clouds are gathering fast on the economic horizon, but this year’s Top 100 chart reflects a sunny era before the credit crunch began to bite. Lynda Relph-Knight pinpoints the strongest sectors and the latest trends, as the industry battens down the hatches
YOU CAN’T open a newspaper or turn on the radio these days without tales of economic gloom filtering through. Indeed, our own Sir Martin Sorrell – bullish over the past few months about the fortunes of the creative industries – is starting to cool off, issuing a note of caution last month as his group, WPP, launched its first-quarter results.
Though WPP’s growth has been 5 per cent overall this year, with its branding interests performing particularly well, the coming months will be tough, Sorrell warns, and next year even tougher. The impact of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the US elections will be gone. Meanwhile, the England football team failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 contest, and we still have meltdown in the transatlantic property and banking spheres as a result of the ongoing credit crunch.
Of course, Sorrell is talking mainly of world events and the work they bring for the marketing services sector as a whole. Design has a part in that and the knock-on effect will be there. Many design groups, particularly in retail, are already feeling the pinch – as, indeed, are their clients, and there is a fair amount of restructuring going on. But this scenario coincides with a time of significant change for design. The industry continues to gain influence and forge stronger relationships with clients, often at the expense of advertising agencies. This is particularly the case in the branding arena as UK consultancies find their services being valued further afield than Britain, the more astute getting their share of projects in India, Russia and Eastern Europe, and getting a toe-hold in, say, Brazil and China.
Digital design is in the ascendancy again, with acquisitive specialists such as Conchango and Syzygy on the look-out to expand their empires and the likes of Reading Room planning to open offices outside the UK. Meanwhile, branding consultancies are still amassing digital talent through mergers and collaborations to meet client demands for on-line potency. Smaller groups featured in the Top 100 could by ripe for picking if they are looking for a deal.
Then there are newer areas for design. Services design groups have yet to make an entrance into the Top 100 – under its current structure they might be pushed to identify earnings for design. But it is a growth area nonetheless. There is also the public sector – a slow burn as a client base, but one we hope to see hot up as the Design Council shifts its focus in that direction with a new line-up including Sir Michael Bichard as chairman and former Nissan Design Europe director David Godber as deputy chief executive.
The Top 100 looks back to 2007, so it doesn’t reflect these phenomena that much. Stalwarts such as chart-topper Imagination remain, but it’s worth checking out this year’s newcomers. Many are in there because they believe they have a story to tell and we should see over the coming months who their audience might be.