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Computer Arts UK studio rankings 2018

10. Alphabetical

alphabetical

  • Founded: 2010
  • Number of staff: 7

Up five places since last year, Alphabetical has had a strong year. It’s worked on a wide range of projects, including an animation series for British Heart Foundation, an identity, website and signage for boutique shop Yard Market and a bespoke typeface for London’s Fashion Business School’s 2018 season. Creative partner Tommy Taylor tells us more...

What have been your highlights of 2018?
Tommy Taylor:
Hiring two further creatives to our team. As a team we now have the varied skill base, broader technical abilities and expertise we’ve been looking for. We have also had the pleasure of fulfilling another year doing what we set out to, which is not getting pigeon-holed into any one design discipline and making more lovely things.

How have you changed since you began in 2010? 
TT:
We’ve definitely refined our instinct to seek out creative clients and opportunities in unexpected places. The biggest change internally since founding is our skills base, as a team. We have always made a conscious decision to work with people who don’t think exactly like we do, and who have different technical skillsets. We’re all better connected because we care about what we’re doing. Now we’re more established as a studio, we’re finding even more joy in that. 

How has the industry changed?
TT:
Quite a bit in some ways, but in other ways, perhaps it hasn’t changed enough. For me the biggest change the industry has seen is the mindset of bigger clients seeking out smaller studios to do greater things.

09. Graphic Thought Facility 

graphic thought facility

  • Founded: 1990
  • Number of staff: 12

A staple of the top 10, Graphic Thought Facility has dropped just a couple of places since 2017. Its recent projects include menus and collateral for Chiltern Firehouse, wayfinding for Standard Hotel in London, and publications and a website for Gagosian. We asked Huw Morgan what he makes of it all...

How does it feel to be voted in the top 10 UK studios?
Huw Morgan:
To maintain the support of peers is very flattering. I’m particularly pleased for the people we work with. It’s a marker of what they have achieved. But, as Computer Arts know, we’ve always had reservations about rankings – though I did always used to listen to the top 40. I can’t use it as a gauge of quality or ability, and that goes for if we are placed high or low in the list – there are admirable studios on this list, but I’d prefer longevity over fashion. 

Can there ever be too many design studios?
HM:
There is business competition and creative competition. Of course any market can be saturated, and what is unhealthy is a culture of picking design by price point. Creatively, a buoyant design economy is healthy for all.

Would you ever consider moving out of London? 
HM:
Never. London works as a destination for both our employees and clients – London is our home. 

08. Magpie Studio

magpie studio

  • Founded: 2008
  • Number of staff: 12

Having shot up a whopping 40 places, Magpie Studio is our highest climber. This year, it also designed the D&AD Annual – a surefire marker that a studio is doing well. Other highlights include winning Best Boutique Agency at ADC New York, getting its new website live and designing the brand for "an interesting new startup" selling non-alcoholic spirits. We spoke to co-founder Ben Christie...

What’s in store for Magpie Studio in 2019?
Ben Christie:
We’ve just started working on three really interesting packaging jobs. It’s exciting as it’s a discipline my partner, David, and I both specialised in at college and have always been keen to revisit.

What about the industry as a whole, do you think?
BC:
The creative industry has, on the surface, never been healthier, but education is a worry. There are more creative students than ever, yet the quality of teaching and access to studio space seems to be plummeting. Nurturing future talent is vital to our industry, but the current government doesn’t seem to agree. 

What’s been your favourite project this year?
BC:
It’d have to be designing the D&AD Annual. It’s a huge honour, and collaborating with Creative Lab’s Steve Vranakis has been really inspiring.  We don’t get to collaborate with other creatives enough.

What makes Magpie unique?
BC:
A lot of our clients mention the playfulness in our work. It’s something we’ve always enjoyed and have found – with the right level of appropriateness – is one of the most powerful communication tools there is.

07. A Practice for Everyday Life

a practice for everyday life

  • Founded: 2003
  • Number of staff: 7

Up nine places from last year, A Practice for Everyday Life (APFEL) has had a busy year. It’s moved studios, and worked on projects including the design of exhibitions for the Design Museum, a new publication, Lateral Cooking and the visual identity for an NYC arts institution. We spoke to the studio...  

You’ve moved up the ranking since last year. What are you doing right?
APFEL:
The only thing we know how to do: working very hard! 

Are rankings like this important to you?
APFEL:
It’s a real compliment to be included – being nominated by a jury of peers is flattering.

How are you celebrating your 15th birthday?
APFEL:
We’re reflecting upon over a decade of work with a series of special features on our website and social media. We wanted to look back through our archives and explore the key ideas, questions and dialogues that have shaped our practice as designers over the years – and, of course, to celebrate. 

What makes APFEL unique?
APFEL:
It’s difficult to give a definitive answer, but perhaps it comes down to cultivating a distinctive approach or point of view through our work, and being certain of what it is you we to do as a group of designers in a broader sense. We’ve never aimed to have a house style, but rather a distinct and responsive approach to our projects that is grounded in research, rigour and playfulness. We hope that this comes through in everything we design, and it underpins each project we work on.

06. Superunion

superunion

  • Founded: 2018
  • Number of staff: 200+

It might be officially a new entry, but Superunion is not exactly a stranger to these rankings. One of the five agencies that formed Superunion at the beginning of this year – The Partners – was fourth in 2017’s list. The new agency’s projects include the Brand Impact Award Best of Show winner, Elliptic, new airline LEVEL and De Beers. We talked to chief creative officer Greg Quinton to discover more…

What makes Superunion different from the rest?
Greg Quinton:
In an industry where little has changed at scale for decades, we are excited about offering something new and different. We might be one of the largest agencies, but we are boutique in attitude, so we get to work on projects where clients of all sizes need brave strategic and creative thinking to make a real difference to their businesses.

What excites you most about 2019?
GQ:
Asia is really exciting, and China especially. North America has recruited some great talent and we are very excited about the new team there. In Europe all is good, however, the obvious big unknown is the ‘B’ word. Simply nobody knows what impact Brexit will have. We will remain optimistic as always. With fingers, toes and eyes crossed. Just in case!

How does it feel to be voted one of the best design studios in the UK?  
GQ:
To be recognised by our peers is the ultimate honour. Awards in themselves are not our ultimate goal, but as an indicator of our creativity and ideas, they inspire our teams, excite our clients and bring the most talented individuals to our doors everyday. And before you ask, we are hiring.

05. Koto 

koto

  • Founded: 2015
  • Number of staff: 36 (worldwide)

Koto stormed its way onto our list last year at number 11, and has continued its climb into the top five this year. Aside from designing for learning platform Obby, Hay x Sonos and Fat Llama, it’s expanded physically too – opening new offices in Berlin and LA, and doubling its staff members. We spoke to James Greenfield to find out the secrets to Koto’s success...

How do you stand out from other design studios?
James Greenfield:
It’s less talk, more work. Too many studios are caught up in thought leadership, social strategies and diversified offers. Whereas it’s very simple: do great work and deliver it so that people will recommend you elsewhere. The network effect will take care of the rest.

What do you think is the secret to your seemingly immediate success?
JG:
Be decent people, take nothing seriously other than the work. And realise there is no such thing as a branding emergency.

Have there been any challenges for you in 2018?
JG:
Delivering the same work in the same way as a team of 30 rather than the six of us.

What’s next for Koto?
JG:
We opened two studios on the same day. We’re now building teams, starting from small start-up spaces, just as we did in London – all sat in one room, smashing out brands and arguing about the Sonos. Also, next year is about more learning, reading more and trying more. We’re going to carry on helping the brave ones who realise the power of good branding is driven by creative and brave clients, and agencies that know what they are doing. 

04. North 

north

  • Founded: 1995
  • Number of staff: 16 

North has fallen just two places since last year, and as well as creating an impressive roster of work for international clients such as Workplace by Facebook and M+ in Hong Kong, the agency’s also recently moved offices. The new space is "a perfect manifestation of North and our approach to design", according to founding partner Sean Perkins. We asked Perkins what’s next…

How does it feel to be ranked so high in this list? 
Sean Perkins:
For us, we have always known you can’t let the standards slip, you cannot afford to ever let a bad project happen. You are judged by your peers in rankings like this, and so, you have a responsibility to keep the benchmark high for London and our industry as a whole. Thank God we don’t do time sheets! It would be so painful to have to measure the amount of time we spend on a project to get it right. 

What does 2019 look like for you?
SP:
Very positive, busy and exciting. However we are still increasingly concerned that young designers might not choose London as a base for their careers for much longer. We utterly depend on European talent as part of our studio approach. Brexit is an evil, foolish mistake for an open nation, which is about to suffer dropping from being a centre of the universe for design to being relegated to as low as the Vauxhall Conference League!

Are there any exciting developments for North?
SP:
Yes we are working on a real website for the first time – a miracle. This, as well as various other upcoming projects we can’t quite get too deep into just yet. 

Next page: Computer Arts 2018 Studio Rankings 3-1