Robert Horne Design Review

By The Drum, Administrator

April 27, 2004 | 14 min read

Both collectively and individually, the North of England boasts of one of strongest design communities in the UK. In Manchester and Leeds, the region has benefited from cities that have established themselves, largely thanks to a wealth of outside-the-box thinkers and talented folk, as centres of creative prowess. And it would be criminal to overlook the talent and strength of design in the likes of Newcastle, Sheffield and Liverpool. Throughout which, emerging agencies, as well as the more established outfits are continuing to consolidate the North of England’s reputation as a hotbed of design know-how and ability.

But while we all like the pretty stuff, every design agency still has to balance the books and run a successful business. With every Christiano Ronaldo or Jermaine Pennant, there’s a Roy Keane or a...err... Dominic Matteo... who keep things running smoothly, and the same goes for design - there’s a strategic decision behind every spark of creative genius.

Over the next few pages, Adline will offer a review of Northern design to whet the appetites of clients up and down the country. Not only that, the review will incorporate the results of the 2004 Robert Horne Design Lunch.

So sit back, put down the holiday brochures and indulge in the creative and strategic thinking that the North of England has to offer.

The Awards

Taking into consideration, the full mechanics involved with operating a particularly robust design machine, the Robert Horne North of England Design Lunch celebrates the agencies and individuals that do it best.

Breaking tradition with evening events, the design lunch does exactly what it says on the tin - the creme of the Northern design scene congregate to do lunch, and give each other a well deserved pat on the back for a year of hard work.

This year’s event, which took place at Manchester’s Stock Restaurant on April 2, was no different, with agencies being rewarded for their performance across four key categories. Research by MRUK and financial research by Baker Tilly, has uncovered the leading players in a range of categories, including the Peer Poll, Client Satisfaction Poll, Creative Poll and the Financial Poll - culminating in the finalists table, whereby one agency walked away - albeit slowly - with the coveted Hatstand prize for the Robert Horne North of EnglandDesign Consultancy of the Year. The recipient of this year’s top accolade is Thompson Design, which performed consistently and emphatically across all four major categories. Spearheaded by Ian Thompson and Phil Dean, the agency has remained profitable during tough times, is respected by its peers, is loved by its clients and has prolifickly turned out creative work that is quite frankly, the dogs wotsits.

While Thompson and Dean grabbed either end of the newest edition to their office (the award), one individual was also presented with an award to reflect his determination, ambition and ability in steering his agency to yet another successful year. While the award has historically been presented to managing directors, the popularity, achievements and approach of Jonathan Sands - chairman of Elmwood in Leeds - ensured that there was only ever one winner of the 2004 Director of the Year award.

Peer Poll

Despite the old chestnut about concentrating on what goes on within your company, not outside it, there comes a time when the hat must come off and a well earned pat on the back must be given to your closest rivals.

Proving that consistency is the key, The Chase, winner of last year’s Peer Poll, proved once again to be the most popular kid in town, holding down the number one spot for a second term. Thompson Design and LOVE tied for second place, while Elmwood and True North finished in a dead heat for fourth.

Creative Poll

Nobody wants to be a one-hit wonder (Just ask Chesney Hawkes) - certainly not LOVE anyway, which picked up first place in this category for the second year running, consolidating the agency’s role as the North’s most creative design agency.

Thompson Design, which came in fifth in 2003, made the leap into second, while True North, Elmwood and Iris filled positions three, four and five respectively.

Client Satisfaction Poll

Good design may look pretty impressive on the wall of your reception, but it matters very little if it doesn’t fulfil the client’s brief or aims. That’s why the award for the Client Satisfaction Poll looks even better on the wall.

We’re rarely more comfortable than when at Home, and it appears the same goes for the clients. Home proved to be a client’s best friend, finishing as top dog in this poll.

The agency fought off the likes of Thompson Design, LOVE, The Chase and Like a River, who made up the remaining top five positions respectively.

Financial Poll

Moolah. No, not the name of Chelsea’s next purchase - more the green stuff that helps Roman Abramovic fund the blue half of London’s pick ‘n’ mix transfer activity. It’s also what being in business is all about and there’s little point going bald, grey or both from the stress of running your own company if you can’t retreat to your new yacht once you’ve retired.

Capping off an impressive outing after its first full year of trading, Home added to its client poll win by racing into pole position in this year’s Financial Poll. The Chase rolled in to second place, while Like a River came in as third. A well done all round – the drinks are on you guys.

The Agencies

Viv’id(a) Ltd

Since it’s birth in 2000, Warrington-based Viv’id has established itself as a strong design agency. Now up to nine staff, and on the hunt for a new creative director, the agency is looking to add to its client base, which includes Warrington Wolves and Chester Racecourse. The agency has identified being \"considered by the region’s clients and given the opportunity to pitch\" as its ultimate ambition for the year ahead.

Home design

Home’s Martin O’Toole told Adline that last year had been \"fantastic\" – and the agency’s performance in the awards does little to contest this. Home finished first in the Financial and Client Satisfaction Polls, proving that after launching in 2002, the agency has already established itself as one of the North’s strongest creative firms. During the last year, Home created the packaging design for the entire range of Remington’s Ladyshaver range and won a five-way pitch to create the Carriageworks Theatre identity.

True North

True North’s first full year in business couldn’t have gone much better – now up to 12 staff, the agency has caught the eye of its competitors, producing the official branding and print for the 60th anniversary of D-day, re-branding Castle Howard and producing the branding for Little Red Tractor, a character of a new children’s TV show on BBC. However, it was the agency’s creative for the Imperial War Museum, which earned it second place in the Best Piece of Work category. Having scored highly in each of the four polls, it’s no surprise that True North has been voted the One to Watch for the year ahead.


Now up to 18 staff, Sheffield-based agency Iris has enjoyed another successful year, working on a range of projects. Iris completed a brand review for the University of Nottingham and Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust. It also worked on the Broadcasting Standards Commission’s Annual Report and produced the brochure for Bluetree. By Iris’ own admission, 2003 was a year spent ‘soul-searching and evaluating’ where the agency is heading and ‘laying down the groundwork for future growth’. Iris landed fifth spot in this year’s Creative Poll.

Tucker Clarke-Williams Creative

TCW Creative is one of the veteran’s of the Northern design scene. However, last year saw the agency produce supporting literature and promotional items for the Kerrange! Radio bid, and create a 64-page brochure for Shisha, the international agency for contemporary South Asian Crafts and Visual arts. While the agency underwent a series of changes in 2003, it has identified ‘sustaining a high level of creativity, continued company growth and building awareness of the agency’ as its key aims for the year.


The winner of last year’s Hatstand prize has worked hard to consolidate its meteoric rise. Over the past year LOVE has worked on a number of impressive projects including the Umbro packaging redesign, Nike Running Book and the brand development of While a 14th-placed finish in the Financial Poll stopped the agency finishing higher than fifth overall, first place in the Creative Poll, followed by impressive finishes in the other polls has help cement the agency’s reputation.

the SPIRIT of...

This Leeds-based agency specialises in brand development and packaging, and has helped to consolidate its reputation in this arena with the packaging redesign for Tizer and Buxton Mineral Water, packaging a design graphics of ‘Monopoly Deluxe’ for Hasbro and a series of other big brand design projects. A similarly impressive showing for the agency’s new media department has led to a 25 per cent increase in income. Directors have outlined similar growth for the year ahead.

The Chase

LOVE held them off the top spot at last year’s awards and Thompson Design managed to do the same this year. Despite this, The Chase remains the favourite among its peers and scored highly across the board. Re-branding for Silentnight Group and the Royal Mail Yearbook are just two of The Chase’s biggest projects of last year, and having confessed its ambition to move a place higher in each of the tables, The Chase could well be next year’s number one.

NE6 Design Consultants Ltd

By it’s own admission, 2003 was \"very tough and kind of miserable\", but the agency has already identified an upbeat start to this year. 2004 will mark the eighth year of business for the Newcastle-based agency, which now has an eight-strong team. Despite the difficulty of last year, NE6 still managed to work with jeweller Beaverbrooks, as well as producing a range of material for Sage UK.


The Newcastle-based agency continues to fly the flag for the North East, which is overlooked all too often. Having begun life in 1999, the agency now has a team of 22 and worked on projects for clients such as Turnbull Building for Northern Land, 55Degrees North for Crown Dilmun plc, Newcastle/Gateshead Initiative, NHS and EMAP Big City Radio last year. The agency scored well across all four polls, finishing in sixth place overall.


The awards proved to be a big success for Elmwood. Jonathan Sands was presented with the Director of the Year award and the agency’s naming and identity work for Serious** scooped the Best Piece of Work accolade. It’s all a reflection of the agency’s hard work in what Sands describes as \"a very hard year for the industry\". Other work that kept the team busy included limited edition stamps for the Royal Mail on the theme of pub signs.


Over the past year Hemisphere has been busy working on the development of a new brand identity for the city of Salford, has produced brand strategies for the cities of Manchester and Sunderland and created the identity and promotional materials for Europride 2004, to name but a few. Word from the agency suggests that 2003 witnessed all targets being met.

WPA Pinfold

Having opened its doors in 1978, WPA Pinfold has managed to ride the ups and downs of the industry, and in the downs of last year, the agency managed to keep itself busy on a number of key projects. These included, branding and packaging design for Scottish Courage ales, new product development for Schwan Consumer Products, and branding/signage applications for Bourne Leisure European parks. The agency has outlined the expansion of its corporate communications portfolio as a key objective for 2004.

Creative Lynx

Last year proved to be Creative Lynx’s most successful in its 18-year history. The agency worked on the branding and a campaign for the re-launch of Zoton Fastab for client, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals International, as well as working on a campaign to promote inward investment in Preston. Creative Lynx came seventh in the Financial Poll, and it’s this performance and its relationship with existing clients, which the agency is hoping to build on in the year ahead.

999 Design

The Manchester-based agency works with a number of impressive clients. In the past 12 months, 999 worked on the rebrand and relaunch of Highland Spring, the rebrand and launch of Gleneagles for K2, produced BT Direct - the consumer magazine and catalogue, and produced a campaign for the DTI, promoting the use of renewable fuel. Like many, last year was a tough one for 999, but the agency puts \"hard work and determination\" down as the key to its acheivements.

Like a River

For this Manchester-based agency, last year was an opportunity to close the book on a difficult 2002. Like a River worked with The Cooperative Travel Trade Group on its through-the-line campaigns, worked on The Balloon Street branding campaign, and produced several ranges of packaging for high street brands. Partner at the agency, Rob Taylor, said: \"We tried to spend more quality time with our existing clients and cultivate the relationships we were building from the year or two previous\".

Brahm Design

The design arm of Brahm in Leeds used much of last year to bolster its reputation as a strong and reputable design agency. It scooped two first place awards at the 2003 Roses Design Awards, winning‘Best Corporate Literature’ for its work with The Yorkshire Dales and ‘Best Point of Sale’ for the Hipster knickers campaign for Republic. Other clients helping to consolidate the agency’s position include Yates’ Wine Lodge, Toyota and the DfEE.


The Cheshire-based agency has enjoyed a busy year - since appointing Paul Adams to marketing manager in March 2003, Origin created a new identity for Manchester-based County Contracts, landed a contract to produce a point of sale campaign for Swinton Insurance and launched a campaign for Royal Doulton. Since January this year, the agency has been working with the University of Salford, Stancliffe Stone Company Ltd, and has produced a new brochure for Bentley Motors.

Thompson Design

Last but certainly not least we come to this year’s proud recipients of the hatstand. Thompson were always respected as one of finest players in the northern arena, but until last year kept a quietly industrious profile. The arrival of former Attik MD Phil Dean marked a change of tact, and gear, as the firm revved up to jostle for position with the very best design firms in the country. Successes in this time include the acquisition of the bulk of the Yorkshire Forward business, creating the identity for children’s programme Boobah and work for Smith & Nephew. Worthy winners indeed.


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