Design league 2010

Isklar: unusual packaging designed by Blue Marlin
Isklar: unusual packaging designed by Blue Marlin

Specialist agencies have had to adapt as cash-strapped clients demand work that looks beyond on-shelf standout to the total brand experience.

In many ways, design's star is rising. Its strategic relationship with business continues to improve and its profile in the media and among the public appears higher than ever. As mass-market advertising flounders, design is inching its way into business structures and boardroom psyches, with major companies now regularly talking about the power of 'design-led thinking'.

Projects such as the launch of London 2012 mascots Wenlock and Mandeville have sparked debates about design in the national press. Even mainstream TV is interested: in recent months there have been several design-related shows, including the BBC's The Genius of Design and High Street Dreams, an episode of which featured the input of design agencies Pearlfisher and Blue Marlin.

The very notion of 'design thinking' is itself a leap forward because it shifts conceptions of the discipline from something that produces solely a tangible output - a pack, for example - to something that is an approach, a structured thought process that can be applied to many and varied issues. Design groups are keen to promote this strategic clever thinking because it helps them move up the client food chain, earning meatier projects with bigger budgets and a higher value.

Mixed outlook

On paper, the future may look rosy, but in the real world things aren't so easy. As this year's league tables reveal, 2009 was tough, with fee income falling significantly for many. 'There is no doubt that the past 12 months have been an extremely challenging and pretty bloody experience,' says Andrew Eyles, group managing director of Blue Marlin.

Last year was characterised by the postponement of projects, as clients waited to see when, or whether, the economy would start to recover. Top agency Imagination was one of many to suffer a double-digit fall in fee income and, while agencies of all sizes have been squeezed, those toward the bottom of the table seem to have been hit hard.

Some of that pressure will remain in the year ahead and agencies working for the public sector are bracing themselves for severe spending cuts. The good news, however, is that many private businesses have ended their freeze on investment, allowing NPD and innovation to continue and putting more briefs into the market.

Guy Douglass, managing director of packaging design agency FLB, agrees that things can only get better. '(Last year) was really tricky. We only just made a profit, and business and cash flow were difficult,' he says. 'But this year is looking positive. There's lots of work out there, both from existing clients and new business.'

Continued investment during a recession can help brands appear strong. Argos' brand identity work with The Brand Union, for example, is intended to position the retailer as fit for the future. 'Customers told us that they want a brand that feels relevant and is well equipped to stay relevant,' says Siobhan Fitzpatrick, head of brand marketing for Argos.

Research found that customers had a desire to see Argos investing in itself. 'It sent the right signals out at a time when companies like Woolworths were all closing,' adds Brand Union UK chief executive Simon Bailey.

Retail spending has just about held up, too, which is good news for those working in FMCG packaging, branding and retail design. 'The market is still robust enough for consumers to pay for a good quality service,' says Michael Sheridan, chairman of luxury retail brand consultancy Sheridan & Co, which works with Absolut and World of Whiskies. 'The value of the pound is also a big factor. Visitors are coming to the UK not just because it's 50% cheaper than it was in 2008, but because we have a very good shopping experience.'

As Media Square design chairman David Worthington notes, those who stand still in FMCG die. 'Big brand-owners are very clear on the need for constant innovation, preferring steady and continuous growth, rather than peaks and troughs. Irrespective of recessions, they tend to cut a more consistent path by remaining committed to a product development cycle,' he says.

Bakery brand Warburtons is a good example of this relentless focus on product development. New business director Jason Uttley says this is what customers are looking for. The company entered the snack-foods sector in March with the launch of ChippidyDooDa pitta chips and SnackaDoodle wholegrain snacks. The brand extension was developed with Anthem Worldwide.

Beyond the shelf

Although FMCG work has remained steady, some of the rules are changing. In particular, brands and design agencies must now think beyond achieving shelf standout, argues Nick Dormon, managing director of Echo Brand Design.

'Standout is now the baseline - if you don't stand out, you don't survive,' he says. 'At the same time, supply-chain savings and sustainability programmes have meant the loss of physical presence on shelf as packaging becomes smaller and more lightweight. So it's about the whole experience. You pick up a product in store, feel it, read it, take it home and use it, put it on a shelf, see it, use it then eventually dispose of it. All these moments are an opportunity to engage with people.'

Norwegian mineral water brand Isklar circles this brand experience with a uniquely engineered bottle design, by Blue Marlin, creating differentiation on shelf but also reducing its use of materials. The brand-product 'loop' is then closed by the company's sustainability efforts, which include full carbon-neutral certification, use of hydroelectric power for its bottling plant and investment in high-end recycling facilities. Each aspect is consistent with notions of purity and nature.

The implications of last year's precipitous fall in business are still playing out. Although work has picked up, the sector remains fragmented and competitive. In a procurement-driven environment, business has become harder to win and sustain. Dick Powell, incoming D&AD chairman and director of Seymourpowell, believes these pressures are leading to more instances of free pitching and the continued erosion of margins. 'They are trying to cut the fat out of the design agencies, but there is no fat there,' he says.

His sentiment is echoed by Eyles, who adds: 'We are all having to work a lot harder and give a lot more. Some groups have gone for volume and are churning stuff out just to keep the lights running, while other groups have got smaller, leaner and more specialist.'

The pressure is on, then, for agencies to reinvent their businesses. Some are looking to overseas markets for revenue, particularly in the fast-growing BRIC nations. Sheridan & Co, for example, is finding its clients buying strategic and creative ideas to use overseas. As an industry, maintaining revenues from emerging markets requires British design to retain its reputation as a global leader.

Overall, Eyles concludes that the design industry emerging from the recession could look very different from the one that went into it. 'Design output has to be married to effective strategy and consultancy,' he says. 'Often we may not even do any design. It's now all about the brand - a seamless service of look, feel, tone and qualities. Some clients welcome deep strategic work, others protect their right to control it, but I'm optimistic that design can sit at the heart of this, working from strategy and concept to 2D and 3D output. The squeeze on fees now will just make the industry leaner, more credible and more professional and then the value of its work will come back in.'

How were the leagues compiled?

THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE

As advertisers increase their focus on dialogue with - and between - customers, they are recognising the significance of the whole experience that people have with their brands, from the moment they first see a pack, ad, piece of copy or web page, through to disposal of a product or their interaction with customer service if they have a problem.

The communications environment is rich, complex and rapidly shifting and brands need help to manage these numerous 'touchpoints'. Ad agencies, design groups and even some digital groups are vying to lead this work. Yet, whoever oversees the process, collaboration between agencies is more necessary than ever.

'The landscape has become more complex for clients with many different agencies working for them - advertising, branding, sponsorship, interaction, social media, digital and so on,' says Simon Bailey, UK chief executive at The Brand Union. 'To have a partner who has helped create the brand itself working to manage all these groups can be very useful for clients.'

The Brand Union adopted this role for Barclaycard, where branding output spanned corporate identity, advertising, direct marketing, digital media, internal engagement, environments, literature, packaging, point of sale, exhibitions and sponsorship. The list of contributing agencies (Bartle Bogle Hegarty, EHS Brann, Balloon Dog, Dare and Vital Marketing) demonstrates how collaboration and oversight are essential in maintaining consistency in a complex, multichannel environment.

Agency notes

Imagination
Founded 1978. Privately owned. Chief executive Douglas Broadley. No specialisms disclosed. Clients include Canon, Ford, Shell. Member DBA. www.imagination.com

Radley Yeldar
Founded 1986. Privately owned. Managing director Andrew Gibbs. 11% corporate identity, 56% corporate literature, 22% internet, 11% other. Clients include Balfour Beatty, Pearsons, Syngenta. www.ry.com

Checkland Kindleysides
Founded 1979.

The Team Brand Communication Consultants
Founded 1978. Subsidiary Loewy Group. Chief executive Julian Grice. 40% corporate identity, 28% corporate literature, 32% internet. Clients include NHS Choices, BAA, Vodafone. Member DBA. www.theteam.co.uk

Jack Morton Worldwide
Founded 1976. Subsidiary Interpublic Group. Xxx. No specialisms disclosed. No clients disclosed. Member DBA. www.jackmorton.co.uk

Interbrand
Founded 1974. Subsidiary Omnicom Group. xxx. No specialisms disclosed. No clients disclosed. Member DBA. www.interbrand.com

The Brand Union
Founded 1976. Subsidiary WPP. Chief executive Simon Bailey. No specialisms disclosed. Clients include Barclaycard, Argos, Reckitt Benckiser. Member DBA. www.thebrandunion.com

Fitch Design Consultants
Founded 1972. Subsidiary WPP. Managing director Lucy Unger. 40% retail, 5% packaging, 30% corporate identity, 5% corporate literature, 5% product, 10% events, 5% internet. www.fitch.com

Start
Founded 1996. Privately owned. Managing director Jennifer McAleer. 13% retail, 34% corporate identity, 27% corporate literature, 26% internet. Clients include Virgin Media, Adidas, Barclays. Member DBA. www.startcreative.com

Jones Knowles Ritchie
Founded 1990. Privately owned. Managing director Guy Lambert. 98% packaging, 2% corporate identity. Clients include Mars, Unilever, Diageo. Member DBA. www.jkr.co.uk

Blue Marlin
Founded 1993. Privately owned. Managing director Andrew Eyles. 100% packaging. Clients include Shell, Unilever, GlaxoSmithKline. Member DBA. www.bluemarlinbd.com

Design Bridge
Founded 1986. Privately owned. Managing director John Morris. 90% packaging, 10% corporate identity. Clients include Unilever, KFC, Carlsberg. www.designbridge.com

Rufus Leonard
Founded 1989. Privately owned. Managing director Will Rowe. 30% corporate identity, 20% corporate literature, 50% internet. Clients include LloydsTSB, O2, British Gas. Member DBA. www.rufusleonard.com

Elmwood
Founded 1989. Privately owned. Chairman Jonathan Sands. 75% packaging, 7% corporate identity, 16% corporate literature, 2% internet. Clients include Cable & Wireless, Wal-Mart, Nestle. Member DBA. www.elmwood.com

Seymourpowell
Founded 1984. Subsidiary Loewy Group. Managing director Dick Powell. 44% packaging, 24% product, 32% other. Clients include BAT, Unilever, Nestle. www.seymourpowell.com

G2 United Kingdom
Founded 1998. Subsidiary WPP. Chief executive Tim Hipperson. 15% retail, 25% packaging, 20% corporate identity, 10% corporate literature, 15% product, 5% events, 10% internet. Clients include BAT, Bacardi, Procter & Gamble. Member DBA. www.g2.co.uk

Sheridan & Co
Founded 1983. Privately owned. Chief executive Michael Sheridan. 100% retail. Clients include Procter & Gamble, Pernod Ricard, Alticor. www.sheridanandco

1HQ
Founded 1993. Privately owned. Chief executive Mark Artus. 79% packaging, 21% product design. Clients include Unilever, Nestle, Premier. Member DBA. www.1HQ.co.uk

Boxer
Founded 1996. Subsidiary The Marketing Store Worldwide. Managing director Angelique Green. 8% retail, 50% packaging, 30% corporate identity, 2% corporate literature, 10% product. Clients include McDonald's, RJ Reynolds, Mitchells & Butlers. www.boxercreative.co.uk

Lambie-Nairn
Founded 1976. Subsidiary WPP. Chief executive Christian Schroeder. 5% retail, 5% packaging, 80% corporate identity, 5% events, 5% internet. Clients include O2, BBC, Sainsbury's. www.lambie-nairn.com

Oakwood Media Group
Founded 1995. Privately owned. Managing director Tony Marwick. 2% retail, 43% corporate identity, 27% corporate literature, 3% events, 25% internet. Clients include BP, Mattel, Schlumberger. www.oakwood-mg.com

Haygarth
Founded 1984. Privately owned. Chief executive Sophie Daranyi. 5% retail, 10% corporate identity, 71% corporate literature, 14% events. Clients include Signet Trading, Majestic Wine, Procter & Gamble. www.haygarth.co.uk

Photosound
Founded 1972. Subsidiary HealthStar. Chief executive Jeremy Williams. 100% events. Clients include Astellas Pharmaceuticals, Merck, Novo Nordisk. www.photosound.com

Coley Porter Bell
Founded 1979. Subsidiary WPP. Xxx. No specialisms disclosed. No clients disclosed. Member DBA. www.cpb.co.uk

Dalziel & Pow
Founded 1983. Privately owned. Chairman David Dalziel. 78% retail, 22% other. Clients include Next Retail, Arcadia, Primark. Member DBA. www.dalziel-pow.co.uk

Wardour Communications
Founded 1996. Privately owned. Chief executive Martin MacConnol. 15% corporate identity, 59% corporate literature, 26% internet. Clients include HSBC, Royal Society for the Arts, Bupa. www.wardour.co.uk

Redhouse Lane Communications
Founded 1988. Privately owned. Managing director Jeremy Redhouse. 30% corporate identity, 40% corporate literature, 15% internet, 15% other. www.redhouselane.com

Epoch Design
Founded 1995. Subsidiary Loewy Group. Chief executive Anthony Lucas. 45% packaging, 15% corporate literature, 40% events. No clients disclosed. www.epochdesign.co.uk

Tynan D'Arcy
Founded 1991. Privately owned. Managing director Jo Clifton. 60% packaging, 20% internet, 20% other. Clients include Premier Foods, Bayer Consumer Care, InterContinental Hotels Group. www.tynan-darcy.com

Allen International
Founded 1992. Privately owned. Managing director Michael Allen. 82% retail, 18% corporate identity. Clients include Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, Bancolombia. www.allen-international.com

Precedent Communications
Founded 1989. Privately owned. Chief executive Paul Hoskins. 20% corporate identity, 80% internet. Clients include Department of Health, Financial Services Authority, RSPCA. www.precedent.co.uk

Springetts Brand Design Consultants
Founded 1976. Privately owned. Managing director Andy Black. 89% packaging, 11% corporate identity. Clients include Ocean Spray, Kerry Foods, Young's Seafood. Member DBA. www.springetts.co.uk

Nucleus
Founded 1979. Privately owned. Managing director Peter Matthews. 25% corporate identity, 45% internet, 30% other. Clients include Rothschild, P&O Cruises, Haven Holidays. www.nucleus.co.uk

LFH Brand Identity Consultants
Founded 1993. Privately owned. Joint managing directors Mano Manorahan, Graham Hawkins. 100% packaging. Clients include Unilever, William Grant, Coca-Cola. Member DBA. www.illuminatingbrands.com

Creative Lynx
Founded 1986. Privately owned. Managing director Neil Martin. 15% corporate identity, 20% graphic design, 5% events, 60% internet. Clients include Astra Zeneca, Johnson & Johnson, North Northants Development Corporation. www.creativelynx.com

Linney Design
Founded 1984. Privately owned. Managing director Michael Fisher. 2% retail, 19% packaging, 5% corporate identity, 34% corporate literature, 2% events, 29% internet, 9% other. Clients include Mars, Molson Coors, Bupa. www.linney.com

Uffindell
Founded 1989. Privately owned. Managing director Sholto Lindsay-Smith. 25% corporate identity, 25% corporate literature, 20% internet, 30% other. Clients include Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Life, BCS. Member DBA. www.uffindellgroup.com

Bulletproof
Founded 1998. Privately owned. Managing director Jonny Stewart. 60% packaging, 15% corporate identity, 25% other. Clients include Kraft, Coca-Cola, GlaxoSmithKline. Member DBA. www.wearebulletproof.com

Figtree
Founded 2004. Privately owned. Managing director Simon Myers. 4% packaging, 79% corporate identity, 3% corporate literature, 14% internet. Clients include HTC, Orange, Veetee. www.figtreenetwork.com

Pearlfisher
Founded 1992. Privately owned. Managing partner Mike Branson. 96% packaging, 2% corporate identity, 2% corporate literature. Clients include Jamie Oliver, Cadbury, Inbev. Member DBA. www.pearlfisher.com

Emperor Design
Founded 1996. Privately owned. Managing director Steve Kemp. 1% corporate identity, 67% corporate literature, 32% internet. Clients include GE, Cairn Energy, Stagecoach. www.emperordesign.co.uk

Turquoise Brand
Founded 2003. Privately owned. Chief executive Sharon Wheeler. 57% corporate identity, 43% other. Clients include Saudi Television Network, du, Sagia. www.turquoisebranding.com

Brandopus
Founded 2006. Privately owned. Managing partner Nir Wegrzyn. 96% packaging, 4% corporate identity. Clients include Northern Foods, Imperial Tobacco, ABF. Member DBA. www.brandopus.co.uk

LMC Design
Founded 1985. Privately owned. Managing director Andrew Cole. 10% retail, 6% packaging, 10% corporate identity, 70% corporate literature, 1% events, 3% internet. www.lmcdesign.co.uk

Holmes & Marchant Internationa
Founded 1967. Subsidiary MSQ. Chairman Andrew Doyle. 80% packaging, 2% corporate identity, 18% product design. Clients include Unilever, Kraft, Freixenet. Member DBA. Www.holmesandmarchant.com

Bell Design & Communications
Founded 1986. Privately owned. Managing director Alan Bell. 50% corporate identity, 30% corporate literature, 5% events, 15% internet. Clients include Department for Children, Schools & Families, Defra. Member DBA. www.belldesign.co.uk

HMKM
Founded 1990. Privately owned. Managing director Alison Cardy. 95% retail, 2% corporate identity, 2% corporate literature, 1% internet. Clients include Nike, Harrods, RGI International. www.hmkm.com

Stocks Taylor Benson
Founded 1988. Privately owned. Managing director Joe Bakowski. 50% packaging, 25% corporate literature, 25% other. Clients include Black & Decker, Morrisons, Wilkinson. www.stbdesign.co.uk

Appetite Consultancy
Founded 1991. Privately owned. Managing director Nicolas Mamier. 10% retail, 25% packaging, 25% corporate identity, 30% corporate literature, 5% events, 5% internet. Clients include Spar, UKTI, SEGRO. www.appetiteuk.com

Thompson Brand Partners
Founded 1987. Privately owned. Managing director Nick Ramshaw. 40% corporate identity. 40% corporate literature, 20% internet. Clients include COI, Arco, Yorkshire Forward. Member DBA. www.thompsonbrandpartners.com

BrandMe
Founded 1990. Privately owned. Managing partner George Riddiford. 97% packaging, 2% corporate identity, 1% corporate literature. Clients include Sainsbury's, Heineken UK, Simple. Member DBA. www.brandme.co.uk

Curious
Founded 2002. Privately owned. Managing director John Hall. 10% retail, 40% corporate identity, 30% corporate literature, 20% internet. Clients include Electrolux, Aviva, Berwin Leighton Paisner. Member DBA. www.curiouslondon.com

Creative Leap
Founded 1996. Privately owned. Chief executive David Gray. 35% packaging, 20% corporate identity, 30% corporate literature, 15% internet. Clients include Alliance Boots, Vitol Group, Merz Pharmaceuticals. Member DBA. www.creativeleap.com

Echo
Founded 2004. Privately owned. Managing director Nick Dormon. 100% packaging. Clients include Unilever, Sara Lee, GlaxoSmithKline. Member DBA. www.echobranddesign.co.uk

Pemberton & Whitefoord
Founded 1987. Privately owned. Creative directors Simon Pemberton, Adrian Whitefoord. 100% packaging. Clients include Tesco, Ferrero, Starbucks. Member DBA. www.p-and-w.com

Marketing Matters
Founded 1989. Privately owned. Managing director Simon Veale. 6% corporate identity, 50% corporate literature, 6% events, 14% internet, 24% other. Clients include Sunseeker International, Royalton, Telesoft. www.marketing-matters.co.uk

flb
Founded 1977. Privately owned. Managing director Guy Douglass. 90% packaging, 10% corporate identity. Clients include Asda, Danone, Kenwood. Member DBA. www.flb.co.uk

WPA Pinfold
Founded 1978. Privately owned. Managing director Myles Pinfold. 14% packaging, 29% corporate identity, 31% corporate literature, 4% events, 22% internet. Clients include RWE Npower, T&R Theakston, University of Leeds. www.wpa-pinfold.co.uk

Reach
Founded 1998. Privately owned. Managing director Caroline Hagen. 100% packaging. Clients include Wickes, Royal Mint, General Mills. www.reachbrands.co.uk

Taxi Studio
Founded 2002. Privately owned. Managing director Brian Mansfield. 60% packaging, 10% corporate identity, 20% corporate literatue, 10% internet. Clients include Coca-Cola, Kraft, BPW. Member DBA. www.taxistudio.co.uk

The Foundry Communications
Founded 1998. Privately owned. Managing director Kevin Murphy. 5% packaging, 5% corporate identity, 35% corporate literature, 5% events, 30% events, 20% other. Clients include Dechra Veterinary Products, Molnlycke Group, SSL International. www.foundrycomms.co.uk

Pierrot Print & Design
Founded 1992. Privately owned. Managing director Andrew Campbell. 15% corporate identity, 50% corporate literature, 5% events, 30% internet. Clients include InterContinental Hotels Group, Compass Group, National Trust. www.pierrot.uk.com

Underscore Design
Founded 1999. Privately owned. Managing director Neil Stanhope. 3% retail, 2% packaging, 30% corporate identity, 30% corporate literature, 5% events, 30% internet. Clients include L&Q, Wolverhampton Wanderers FC, German Embassy. Member DBA. www.underscore.co.uk

Carnegie Orr
Founded 1996. Privately owned. Chief executive James Carnegie-Brown. 30% corporate identity, 30% corporate literature, 10% events, 30% internet. Clients include BSkyB, Mitchells & Butlers, Carillion. Member DBA. www.carnegieorr.co.uk

Hey Moscow
Founded 2001. Privately owned. Managing director Liz Wakefield. 18% corporate identity, 16% corporate literature, 17% events, 19% internet, 30% other. Clients include National Apprenticeship Service, Unicef, Northgate IS. www.heymoscow.com

Ambition Communications
Founded 2005. Privately owned. Managing director Rebecca Mckinlay. 5% retail, 15% corporate identity, 15% corporate literature, 40% events, 25% internet. Clients include BlackBerry, William Grant, Beating Bowel Cancer. www.ambition-communications.co.uk

Saatchi & Saatchi Design
Founded 1989. Subsidiary Publicis Groupe. Managing director Ashley Goodall. 15% corporate identity, 70% corporate literature, 5% events, 10% internet. Clients include Toyota Motor Europe, Atkins, Mercy Ships. Member DBA. www.saatchi-design.co.uk

 

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