Earlier this year, Computer Arts polled almost 70 top designers, creative directors and studio founders across the UK to discover which industry peers they most revere, respect and in some cases envy, to produce the second annual UK Studio Rankings.
The results are detailed in alongside a wealth of insight and advice from each of the top 30 studios, plus a host of statistics that will be helpful whether you're a freelancer for hire, designer looking for a salaried job or student seeking an internship.
Crucially, this survey is all about peer reputation – regardless of size, budget or awards. In short: the 30 world-class studios on this list are here because their fellow designers think they should be.
The top 30 is comprehensively covered in Computer Arts issue 246 but we can now reveal the UK's top studios right here on Creative Bloq.
- Founded: 2008
- Location: Northern Quarter, Manchester
"We're notoriously introverted," admits Dave Simpson, partner and creative director at Music. "So it's great to find out that people know about us." They certainly deserve to be known, having created superb work for the likes of Manchester City FC, British Fashion Council and Universal Music, joined in 2015 by new clients Powerleague, Henry Moore (pictured) and Victoria Plum.
"As we approach our 10-year milestone, our ambitions are centred around rewards for the people who work with us," adds Simpson.
As for newcomers, Music employs paid interns on a minimum of a four-week rota, or sometimes longer. "It's important to give students an opportunity," says Simpson, "and a few of our interns have turned into full-time members of staff."
- Location: Hackney, East London
A collaborative practice engaged in partnerships with artists, curators, editors, architects, designers and institutions, OK-RM has gone from strength to strength in 2015. Co-founder Rory McGrath describes the studio's ethos as "the belief that to be realised, good concepts need appropriately good ideas".
He picks out the year's high points as follows. "Founding InOtherWords, which creates books as collectable objects, working in close collaboration with artists (pictured). Working with the V&A on Reading the V&A , which gave us the opportunity to work in different mediums. And having the opportunity to work with talented designers and a project manager in studio, which is helping us build a collective and inspiring spirit to undertake new, exciting projects."
Currently employing two full-time young designers, OK-RM also aims to work with two to three design interns per year.
28. Hingston Studio
- Founded: 1997
- Location: Soho, Central London
What makes Hingston Studio different, says founder Tom Hingston, is "a real diversity in our approach. Our collective skill set allows us to execute beautifully crafted work in any media."
And not unexpectedly, his high points for 2015 are suitably diverse: "Winning Best in Show at the Type Directors Club for our Bowie promo 'Sue'. The completion of our installation in the lobby space of the Ampersand Building in Soho (pictured). And collaborating on two title sequences with old friends, directors Anton Corbijn (Life) and Joe Wright (PAN)."
What of next year? "The studio has started producing more and more moving image based work over the last two years," says Hingston, "so we're really excited about the idea of developing this approach further."
In general, he feels, it's a great time to be a studio in London. "UK design has a greater respect than ever before, and the UK is being recognised as a thriving, global hub for creativity."
- Founded: 2001
- Location: Hoxton, London; plus NYC, Madrid, Istanbul, Miami, Mumbai, Vienna
2015 was a time of rather mixed emotions for Saffron. "It was our first year as an agency without one of our founding partners, the great Wally Olins, who sadly passed away last year," explains executive creative director Gabor Schreier.
But the studio has continued to move forward "as Wally would have wished", winning new clients in 2015 including Tiger (Retail, Copenhagen), Bank of America-MBNA and Sodexo, and creating new branding for electronics company BQ (pictured), telecom giant Telco and oil company Cepsa.
"As our London studio continues to grow and flourish, we recruit talent on an as-and- when-we-need basis," adds Schreier. "For example, last year we took on a graphic design intern who is now a full-time junior designer."
- Founded: 2003
- Location: Whitechapel, East London
Sennep moved to a new home in Whitechapel this year. "The struggle is real in London – prices and demand are no joke," says co-founder Matt Rice. "But we got there in the end. And our new home is pretty much a blank canvas to design our dream workspace."
2015 also saw their new online store for Edwin Europe (pictured) go live – "a great sense of achievement after nailing some technical challenges" – and a slot at design event Semi-Permanent ("presenting alongside some big names really got the blood flowing").
Meanwhile, Sennep continues to draw in new talent. "Over the past years we've had interns from all over the world," says Rice. "Most of our junior roles have been filled by interns."
- Founded: 2005
- Location: Shoreditch, East London
"We've never been busier," says Simon Manchipp, founder of SomeOne. "There seems to be no slowdown in the race to launch new products, organisations and services, and even less time to pause when it comes to keeping brands competitive. And as long as that continues, we seem to be in the best city in the world to create and deploy progressive and effective commercial creativity."
This year that's included work for Cancer Research UK he describes as "immensely rewarding both creatively and intellectually", and the team's award-winning branding for the Baku 2015 European Games.
And they're constantly on the lookout for new talent. "We have always supported a strong internship scheme here, and it feeds the entire business," Manchipp explains.
- Founded: 2010
- Location: Shoreditch, East London
"Our biggest strength is our desire to get better," says Tommy Taylor, creative partner at Alphabetical . "We soak up new tricks and ways of thinking from everywhere, from clients to interns."
That philosophy has been at the core of attracting some top new clients in 2015 including the LSE, Goldsmiths, Peabody and the British Council. Alphabetical has also been working with the British Heart Foundation on a number of landmark resources for poorly children in 2015.
"Receiving such positive response on how we've helped them has been an extremely rewarding highlight," says Taylor. Another has been adding another member to their team, "who's carved a role as a third pillar and perfectly bridges the gap between creative and business".
The agency's ambitions in 2016 include working with clients outside of the UK for the first time. "We are also considering a new website and are looking forward to the challenges and navel gazing that will undoubtedly bring."
- Founded: 2010
- Location: Hackney, East London
Unlike other lists you might encounter on the web, we wanted our Top 30 to feature only the best studios – not just the most loudly self-publicising. And DJA could never be accused of the latter.
Doing high-quality work largely under the radar, they work together with partner company, Alias, to provide creative direction, filmmaking, design, packaging, branding and digital development for clients including Anya Hindmarch, Dior and Prada Women (pictured).
Operations director John McCauley sees the studio's biggest strength as "creativity, clarity and craft" and says they've had a great year "working with new and exciting clients on a great diversity of projects". Their ambitions for 2016 are simply "continuing to deliver the best possible work for our clients".
- Founded: 2009
- Location: Dalston, East London
Field started six years ago with a focus on generative design and interactive art, and has broadened its spectrum with every year. In 2015 the studio showed its artwork from the last three years in context, at its first solo exhibition: Violescence.
They've also been working on a large-scale installation for a new energy research centre in Saudi Arabia, not to mention collaborations with Monotype (pictured) and Nike, with which they're involved on a strategic and long-term level.
They're also keen to recruit, according to co-founder and MD Vera-Maria. "We offer shorter contracts for juniors whenever we meet someone interesting, and often keep them on beyond an internship. We prefer to just try working with someone, rather than know exactly how they'll fit in advance."
- Founded: 2009
- Location: Shoreditch, London; plus San Francisco
It's been a transformational year for DesignStudio, with some big projects including rebrands for Airbnb and Logitech (pictured).
"We've seen recognition from some huge global brands," says CEO Paul Stafford. "We're on pitch lists with very established agencies. And we've won at Cannes Lions and awards from all over the world."
At the same time, they've avoided "selling out", he adds. "It's very hard to turn down a good budget but when clients don't have the same mindset, it's ultimately the right thing to do."
Looking to the future, Stafford wants DesignStudio to be the agency where a new generation of designers want to work. "So we'll continue to build our relationships with the schools and universities. If you're brilliant, if you bring something new, we want you to be here."
20. Turner Duckworth
- Founded: 1992
- Location: Chiswick, West London; plus San Francisco
"The competition from designers all over the world is really hotting up," says Bruce Duckworth, co-founder of Turner Duckworth. "The UK design industry can stay ahead, but we must open our eyes to the talent out there because complacency is a dangerous trait."
We'd say he's got a right to relax a little, though, after another year of top work by the studio, including new packaging for Miller Lite (pictured), a Burger King rebrand and a new identity for Coors Light.
And the studio is constantly being refreshed by new talent. "We offer internships to degree course students in their second year and also to new graduates," says Duckworth. "Typically they last two or three weeks so that we can work with as many new designers as possible. We love junior designers."
- Founded: 2000
- Location: Strand, London
As with many of the studios on this list, the biggest challenge of 2015 for John Morgan has been coping with the fallout from London's continuing property boom. Or as he puts it, "Finding a suitable studio space in a city so locked down and expensive that many of my colleagues are forced to move elsewhere".
Creatively, though, it's all good, with recent projects including art direction of ArtReview magazine (pictured); graphic identity and ongoing consultancy for David Chipperfield Architects, and four new Four Corners Familiars books, which features artists' responses to classic novels and short stories.
"This series was recognised in the Design Museum Designs of Year some years ago and continues to develop and build on that recognition," says Morgan.
"In 2016, we look forward to working with The Artist's Institute in New York as they move to new premises," he adds. "We also plan to make our bespoke typefaces available commercially through a new digital foundry."
18. Johnson banks
- Founded: 1992
- Location: Clapham, London
It's been a busy year for johnson banks. "We've seen a huge project coming off for Cambridge University (pictured); a tiny project, Mr Cooper, being tweeted about worldwide, presenting at What Design Can Do about 'design that makes a difference'," says founder Michael Johnson.
"It's not all been easy-going, though," he adds. "Working with a genuinely global client across multiple headquarters has been tricky: it's meant a lot of travelling, presenting and multilingial diplomacy. Working on a very intriguing new project in Virginia USA has forced us out of our NYC bubble (a good thing). I've also been trying to find the time to write a book about the branding process – very challenging and means very long days." In 2016, he plans to "make space for life a bit more".
He's a bit nonplussed about the design scene as a whole right now, though. "Not that many earth-shattering ideas around, to be honest – although less sense of blind panic than there was a few years ago."
As ever, the studio is keen to draw in the best new talent to keep driving things forward. "We're always offering internships, every two years or so looking for brilliant juniors," says Johnson.
- Founded: 1995
- Location: 11 Northburgh Street London EC1V 0AH
From the perspective of North partner Stephen Gilmore, the UK design industry is looking pretty healthy right now. "It feels there are lots of opportunities and some great design being produced," he says.
This year they've brought in new names like Southbank Centre, Tate and Central Pattana to join longstanding clients such as Barbican, First Direct and chef Alan Yau. Working with the latter, they built The Duck & Rice (pictured), a pub website that allows the customers to control the space.
Gilmore's flattered that North – which will move to new premises in 2016 – has been included our list, but stresses they don't set out to seek glory. "The young studios we admire concentrate on producing great client work over their own self-publicity," he says.
- Founded: 1992
- Location: Studio 2, 33 Stannary Street
Spin may have been around for decades, but they refuse to rest on their laurels. "The challenges are always the same, to keep on pushing the bar higher, creatively, challenging ourselves to do better," says co-founder and creative director Tony Brook.
His 2015 highlights include: "The launch of the UCA Identity, an exciting, flexible and effective identity. Working with Lance Wyman on his monograph (pictured): he's the nicest person working in our field and one of the most talented ever. And the launch of the Spin monograph, a monumental effort by the team."
As far as taking on new talent goes, "there aren't many opportunities because we are quite small," says Brook. "But almost all of our staff came straight from college and usually through an internship. Mail your work in and you never know."
15. Wolff Olins
- Founded: 1965
- Location: London (Regents Wharf), New York, San Fransico, Dubai
It's an exciting time for Wolff Olins, which in 2015 saw its work for Orange come full circle.
"In March we helped them launch their latest brand evolution, 20 years on from the original concept we created," explains creative director Chris Moody. "Orange have set out on to be 'the first telco of the internet age' and we're immensely proud to be a part of that journey."
It's a great example of what Wolff Olins is all about: "Working with organisations ambitious and brave enough to embrace real change through our work."
It's also keen to lure the best of the next generation of designers. "We have a rolling internship programme for junior designers, attend grad shows to find top talent; and spend time looking through hundreds of applications."
14. Here Design
- Founded: 2005
- Location: London Fields, Hackney, London
Here Design is relatively small, but what they lack in size they make up for in self-belief. As creative partner Mark Paton puts it: "Our biggest strength is the naïve assumption that we can design anything".
This year that included a new brand identity and packaging for Bacardi; the interior design and brand identity for Sesame, Yotam Ottolenghi's new food concept (pictured); and the launch of their own food brand, 'The Geometry of Pasta'. "The learning curve was steep, and it's given us a much deeper appreciation of the challenges our clients face," says Paton.
Want to work at Here Design? They offer a rolling placement scheme that usually takes one or two people for a month at a time. "All interns get the living wage," says Paton. "In exceptional cases, placements lead to employment as a junior designer."
13. Moving Brands
- Founded: 1998
- Location: Hoxton, London, San Francisco, Zurich, New York
Moving Brands' strength, says CEO Mat Heinl, is "a fearless approach to doing progressive and creative work". They've been putting this into practice recently as lead creative partner for eir, a new Irish telecom (pictured). "It's fresh and brave and I think it changes the profile of branding and design topics in Ireland," says Heinl.
Another 2015 highlight has been the "big efforts our team have put into growing our New York studio," he adds. "We've had quite a lot of practice setting up studios abroad and it's always an exciting challenge."
Heinl started as an intern himself, and Moving Brands continues to offer internships in its studios, all year round, across all areas. "We care a great deal and are keen to help develop every intern's skills," he says. "Most end up being permanent members of our team."
- Founded: 2004
- Location: Clerkenwell
Bibliothèque moved from Shoreditch to Clerkenwell this year and partner Tim Beard couldn't be happier with the cheaper rent and faster broadband they've been enjoying as a result – not to mention "no longer being adjacent to a building site".
Other highlights of 2015 have included publishing the first two issues of The Hour (pictured) – a beautifully written and designed watch journal that places emphasis on cerebral content rather than luxury and celebrity – and working on a restaurant for Nuno Mendes.
Their ambitions for 2016 include "building on some very exciting introductions made in 2015, continuing to push ourselves and our clients as hard as we can, and sharing some very exciting projects being delivered in the second half of 2015."
11. NB Studio
- Founded: 1997
- Location: South Bank, next door to Tate Modern
What marks branding and communication agency NB Studio apart? According to creative director Nick Finney, it's "creative courage". That means "having the bravery to turn work down to keep standards high and maintain our integrity". It's an approach that's led them to rewarding projects, such as curating this year's brilliant Sign of the Times exhibition in Shoreditch and branding for Aspall (pictured).
They issue the following advice to other studios wishing to emulate their success: "There is so much vanilla out there, be yourself, be courageous and mostly stay curious and never ever stop learning."
Although a small studio, new designers are welcome to try their luck at NB. "We have always had an extremely strong internship. Most of NB designers have come through this process."
- Founded: 1972
- Location: Notting Hill, London, New York, Austin, Berlin, San Francisco
"Pentagram's strength is, and has always been, the variety of our work," says partner Domenic Lippa, who feels both "sceptical and proud" to appear in this list.
"The biggest challenge for any design studio is to produce great work that you can feel proud of," he believes. "One of the ways that we've achieved is by staying independent, one of our most important founding principles." But that doesn't mean things standing still, and 2015 has seen the arrival of Hudson-Powell founders Luke Powell and Jody Hudson-Powell. "New partners arriving is always exciting as it helps shape and change Pentagram, " says Lippa.
As ever, the studio's work has drawn praise across the board in 2015, from its makeover of the Lloyd's of London Report (pictured) to its rebrand of First Great Western as GWR.
09. The Partners
- Founded: 1983
- Location: London, Clerkenwell, Singapore, New York
Greg Quinton, ECD of The Partners is feeling pretty upbeat about the state of UK design right now. "The industry is the healthiest it's been for a good few years," he enthuses. "Brands can only tread water for a limited time without going under. This year has seen brands start to kick-start their offers, innovate their products and communicate them. Confidence is slowly returning. Amen!"
This year's highlights for The Partners include the transformation of retail giant Argos into a digital brand, in collaboration with CHI/D&P. Other new clients for the studio have included Eversheds, Silversea and the London Symphony Orchestra – joining longstanding ones such as Deloitte (pictured), The Connaught Hotel and Investec. "Oh and we finally updated our book, 'A Smile in the Mind', with over 600 new pieces and interviews (February 2016 release)," says Quinton.
The secret to their success? "Through the creation of ideas and experiences we build brands that continuously evolve and grow stronger over time," says Quinton. "We go beyond the expected, finding solutions that drive deeper thought and engagement, provoking extraordinary results."
The studio is also keen to encourage new blood, and has a placement scheme that's been bringing in newcomers to the business for 20 years. "It's an important part of our recruitment strategy and about 60-70% of our talent comes in that way," says Quinton.
- Founded: 2004
- Location: Shoreditch London; New York, Malmo, Sydney
2015's been a great year for ustwo so far. "We've been looking to work in the health space for years," says co-founder Matt Miller. "So we're very proud to have launched our Apple Watch app Moodnotes, a thought journal/mood diary, in partnership with Thriveport LLC.
"We were also proud to see Wayfindr – the first open standard for audio-based navigation – go from an internal project to protoytpe tested by TFL to a standalone business. Also, winning two Baftas for our mobile game Monument Valley – an illusory adventure of impossible architecture and forgiveness – was an amazing acknowledgement for the team and studio."
In general, Miller believes, it's a great time for the UK design scene. "I don't think it can ever have been so healthy," he enthuses. "The barriers to anything are lower than at any time in history." But that doesn't mean ustwo's success hasn't been earned. "Success is just the gloss on top of hard work," he adds, "and more often than not is total madness and stress."
For those willing to put in the effort, ustwo has an established intern programme, with potential roles covering all aspects of design and development. "We actively try to find the top talent leaving education each year and work with our entry-level colleagues to develop new skills and progress their careers."
- Founded: 2006
- Location: Shoreditch, London
It's been a great year at Sawdust, says Rob Gonzalez. "It was amazing to be included in the list of nominees for the Design Museum's annual Designs of the Year, for our work with Wired UK – credit also to Andrew Diprose, creative director at Wired. Other highlights were speaking at the OFFF Barcelona design festival, and our poster to celebrate 100 years of the Coca-Cola bottle being chosen for an exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia."
One of the biggest challenges was speaking at OFFF in Barcelona: "definitely a different skill-set to what we're used to". They've also been experimenting with 3D as well as font production packages, and redesigning their website.
- Founded: 2004
- Location: Sheffield / London
Universal Everything's Gregory Povey list the studio's biggest 2015 highlights as follows: "Sydney Opera House (pictured): combining our love of architecture, moving image and sound. 'Apple: Start something new': making art with new technology. And Google Creative Lab: a new form of brand identity for a new form of publishing." Their ambitions for 2016? "Digital art for Apple Watch and Apple TV; and developing high end realtime graphics."
- Founded: 1999
- Location: Chiswick, London
No one could ignore GBH in 2015, not least because its co-creative director Mark Bonner became 2015 President of D&AD. Other highlights included working with BMW and Louis Vuitton, while Bonner describes the biggest challenges as "growth, client problems and and the lack of summer". The solutions, in turn, have been "good people, creative solutions and daylight bulbs".
In 2016, they plan to "concentrate on winning a D&AD Black Pencil rather than handing them out".
- Founded: 2007
- Location: Haggerston, East London
ManvsMachine’s biggest strength, according to co-founder and creative director Mike Alderson, is that: "Everyone here is amazing at what they do, but no-one takes themselves too seriously." It's an approach that won them D&AD Black Pencil and Seven Cannes Lions in 2015. Other highlights of the year include "seeing existing clients continue to come back with renewed enthusiam," adds Alderson. "Because this means we’re (probably) not douche-bags."
Recruitment-wise, they don’t usually look to fill predetermined creative positions. "We look for exceptional talent who will happily contribute to the team whilst defining their exact role or specialism. Age or qualifications don’t really come in to it," says Alderson.
- Founded: 1990
- Location: Clerkenwell, London
"Having never really entered awards, it’s particularly flattering that this recognition comes from our peers, says Huw Morgan, partner at Graphic Thought Facility. "Being nominated was very helpful in explaining to my mum exactly what we do."
He list the many highlights of 2015 for the studio. "MDR (Modern Design Review) a magazine we design and art-direct, being nominated for Designs of the Year. The inaugural Photo London and seeing its opportunities for an identity that worked in campaigns, marketing, publishing and environmental graphics. The Hult Business School launch (pictured). Seeing the multiple and unique covers for The Art of Typewriting (an compilation of a single collectors of typewriter art collection) and the Dior by Richard Avedon book reaching fruition."
He believes the UK design industry is in a great state at the moment. "There seems to an insatiable desire to be in London — most applications we get come from foreign graduates — and at the very least this must be some gauge to a creative buoyancy. I hope it’s sustainable."
- Founded: 2008
- Location: Brick Lane, London
How does it feel to be voted by your peers as one of the UK’s top 30 studios in 2015? "It feels great!" says Ben Christie founder + creative partner. Nothing better than to be respected by those you respect."
2015 has been a big year for Magpie, in which it's moved to a new studio and area, won a D&AD Yellow Pencil for the fourth year running and had great success with the work they've done with Morgans. "It’s been a massive challenge for the studio but it’s been worth it," says Christie. "And it’s opened new doors for us, left, right and centre."
It’s a great time for the industry as a whole, Christie believes. "Following the success of Apple, a switch has been flicked. Companies are becoming increasingly aware of the commercial value of creative thinking at not just brand, but board level. Steve Jobs really did us all a huge favour there."
Want to work there? Then understand that at Magpie, personality is really important. "We’re always keen to have people in for a while before employing them. We offer internships for two to four weeks that then get extended if we like people. And we generally up their money after a few weeks. In terms of jobs, every one of our juniors has made a job for themselves, rather than applying for a job. I don’t think we’ve ever advertised for a junior."
01. Made Thought
- Founded: 2000
- Location: Fitzrovia, London
"Good design shouldn’t just be beautiful, it should change behaviour," believes Made Thought director Ben Parker. "Our approach is about taking the brand and client on an ‘unorthodox leap’ to create something extraordinary.
There have been a number of highlights for Made Thought in 2015, he says. "The first has to be winning a Black D&AD pencil for our brand work on G.F. Smith. Another was our work on the Adidas StellaSport campaign being voted one of the top 10 fashion films by the Business of Fashion. Plus we’ve had a studio engagement and one baby so far this year!"
Of course, there have been challenges too. "Our biggest – people, size and approach – were all borne out of two key issues we’ve been wrestling with: ‘What type of studio do we want to be?’ and ‘What do we want to be doing?’," says Parker. "We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this over the last six months. We’re clear now that we want to resist the temptation to grow bigger and stay intentionally small(ish). This will allow us to focus on only a few of the very best creative challenges out there and give them our all."
Buy the issue!
The full report on the 2015 Studio Rankings – and much, much more – was published in Computer Arts issue 246, which also came with a rather snazzy heat-reactive cover. The issue has just gone off sale, but you can stick pick up a back issue from our online store (while stocks last) here.
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