03. Pentagram (opens in new tab)
- Founded: 1972
- Number of staff: 80 (UK office only)
Pentagram has climbed a couple of places from 2017 after another prolific year, with its partners working on identities for Battersea, London Design Biennale and more. As ever, new talent is constantly being added into the mix – the newest partners are Jon Marshall and Sascha Lobe. We talked to partner Domenic Lippa to find out more...
You’ve been around longer than most on our list – what’s your secret?
Domenic Lippa: We work hard at it. Our partners are based across London, New York, Berlin and Austin, but we meet twice a year and spend a lot of time with each other. We encourage our differences to exist but also celebrate our similarities. We’re by no means perfect, but recognise our imperfections as positives.
What does 2019 look like for you and the industry?
DL: Who knows? The political changes can be worrying. We are a multicultural studio and recent events and elections have led to much uncertainty. It’s quite depressing and makes me angry.
How do you stand out from other great UK design studios out there?
DL: We just try to keep doing what we do. Most people I admire are all running small, independent studios and doing great work. Our independence, for us, is a crucial element to maintain.
02. JKR (opens in new tab)
- Founded: 1990
- Number of staff: 292
James Nixon lists this year’s highlights as being approached by multinational clients without having to pitch, as well as work for smaller brands such as Hippeas and Ugly Water through the agency’s in-house incubator Green Park Brands. And all this hasn’t gone unnoticed, as JKR has shot up 11 places from last year. Nixon tells us more...
What makes JKR stand out?
James Nixon: The work we do has always had that quality aspect to it. We like to have the courage to do the right thing, say the right thing and encourage people to believe in what’s right, and in what’s wrong, and fall out, and get back together again, so they can grow. I think we’ve been distinctive in the space of wanting to believe in commercial value for brands.
What next in 2019?
JN: We’re going to look to be far faster, and more nimble. We want to learn from what we’ve done with the small guys and apply that to the big guys. Nimble doesn’t necessarily mean fast and shit. It means flexible, agile and collaborative.
Are lists like this important to you and the JKR team?
JN: I’d be lying if I said they didn’t mean a hell of a lot. I think the most important thing is the maintenance of the industry. Because the moment someone’s a bit rubbish, we’re all fucked. It’s so important that clients never buy, and are never happy to buy, mediocre designs. The moment that happens, the industry’s gonna suffer. So, we want rankings to continue in order to allow people to go, ‘Come on, let’s keep the quality up, and we’ll move forward as an industry’. It’s better for everyone.
01. Studio Sutherl& (opens in new tab)
- Founded: 2014
- Number of staff: 2
Studio Sutherl& is a bit of a big deal. Hitting the top spot two years in a row and voted the best studio in the UK by a panel of their peers, Sutherl& has found the perfect sweet spot. Comprised of founder Jim Sutherland and Rosey Trickett, the studio deals in elegant simplicity and is always confident, always effective and loved by clients and industry insiders alike. We spoke to Sutherland himself to find out more...
How does it feel to be voted number one again?
Jim Sutherland: It’s quite incredible and humbling news to be in such celebrated company. The new studio has been such a joy to set up – and we’ve had great opportunities to work with some fabulous clients.
How do you stand out from the other studios?
JS: I think you need to concentrate on the work in front of you and do the best you can with that. Everything else follows.
Are rankings like this important to you?
JS: It’s great that it is a peers’ review. We do all work in independent bubbles – so outside recognition is lovely. Ultimately, rankings come and go, so we do just need to focus on the work itself.
What can you do as a team of two that massive studios cannot?
JS: The world has changed – and a lot of great work comes out of the smaller studios now. The model of setting up bespoke, expert, creative teams, across disciplines for specific projects is the future, I think. Lots of smaller studios are springing up and the larger clients are going to them for their creativity. I think it’s really exciting time.
Highlights of 2018?
JS: So far? Start-rite shoes identity launching at the start of the year. It’s such a wonderful opportunity to work with the leading children’s shoe company in the world. Also, the work for St Albans Museum + Gallery. We worked across every part of the project for a fabulous client. Walking into the reopened museum was delightful.
What’s your biggest fault?
JS: I have to learn to say ‘no’ more. I get very excited about the potential of every project, so I find it hard to turn them down.
What’s coming up for Studio Sutherl&?
JS: We’re working on two projects in Hamburg and in Detroit – both of which are very exciting for the studio.