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Dundee by Design

By The Drum | Administrator

March 10, 2005 | 13 min read

Dundee’s Riverside Drive is renowned for its stunning panoramic views of the River Tay. However, facing the stunning natural backdrop is a visual reminder of the city’s proud past and burgeoning ambition for the future. Just yards from Discovery Point, where Captain Scott’s famous polar exploration ship provides an illustrious link with the past, stands a modern testament to Dundee’s growing reputation as a force to be reckoned with in the modern marketplace.

The inspiring ‘Pathfinder’ sculpture depicts a boat passing through a gateway illustrating the city’s historic links with the Tay through travel, departure and the trade of goods and ideas. However, the new sculpture not only reflects the past glories of Dundee, where manufacturing and shipping once reigned supreme, it also signifies growing ambition and economic drive.

Having diversified its economy in order to overcome a crisis of identity, with the decline of several traditional industries, Dundee is now recognised as home to a thriving digital media and creative industries hotbed. Dundee is now preparing itself for a surge in the number of digital media companies which are expected to take advantage of the opportunities promised by the city’s ambitious new media village.

Seabraes Yards, billed as Dundee’s creative media district, is a landmark venture spearheaded by Scottish Enterprise Tayside, in close collaboration with other public and private sector organisations, which will see £50million injected into the area over the next ten years.

Occupying a 20-acre site, formerly a railway goods yard, Seabraes has been in the pipeline for more than two years. Work is well underway on the project, which is situated next to Dundee’s vibrant cultural quarter already home to existing creative attractions such as Dundee Contemporary Art, Dundee Science Centre and Dundee Rep Theatre.

Originally called Dundee Digital Media Park, this project was conceived as both a response to the massive growth which the city’s digital media sector has seen over the last four years and as a proactive opportunity to transform Dundee into a global hub for the creative industries. While the name Seabraes Yards has been chosen to reflect the area’s history, developments will see the area transformed into a modern business environment for creative media industries.

Construction work on the first facility on Seabraes Yards is already well advanced with the private sector led redevelopment of a landmark building to create vision@seabraes, a new creative media centre in the former Seabraes Mill. With financial support from Scottish Enterprise Tayside and Europe the centre is due to open in April, offering up to 100,000 sq ft of state-of-the-art facilities.

Scottish Enterprise Tayside chief executive, Shona Cormack, believes Seabraes will have a huge impact on the local economy: “Seabraes Yard is a landmark project that underlines how completely the city is embracing the new industries of the global economy.

“The next decade will see a former brownfield site transformed into the vibrant heart and soul of Tayside’s creative sector. It will support indigenous companies and attract new talent and further investment to the area. I believe Seabraes Yards will ensure Dundee’s deserved reputation as an international centre of excellence for the creative industries is raised to a whole new level.”

In Dundee, the games and electronic entertainment industry are perhaps the most recognised part of the overall creative industries umbrella, with successful Tayside-originated games, such as State of Emergency and the Grand Theft Auto series, grabbing headlines across the globe. But the sector is much wider, encompassing such diverse areas as software development, communications technologies, film and television, animation, graphic design, publishing, music and new media.

Global online entertainment company, Webzen Inc. (Nasdaq: Wzen) was recently awarded the worldwide online game publishing rights to All Points Bulletin (APB), the first online game developed by Real Time Worlds. With APB, which will be released in 2007, Real Time Worlds and Webzen Inc. hope to set a new standard in online entertainment. Thousands of players will form gangs, or squads, all around the world, and will play in hundreds of online cities.

SE tries to act as a catalyst for future developments but recognises it cannot be a panacea for all challenges facing the industry, establishing partnerships with organisations in private, public and academic sectors. SE Tayside has worked with Abertay University through Dare to be Digital.

Launched in 2000, Dare to be Digital is a competition to encourage the next generation of games developers. The competition now attracts entries from all across Scotland and Ireland – with discussions on-going to extend it to England – and is supported by industry heavyweights Microsoft, Electronic Arts and BBC.

It is not hard to see why there has been enthusiasm for strong collaboration. In 2000 Tayside had 200 digital media companies, which has now grown to over 300, providing employment to 2,300 people and boasting a combined turnover in excess of £100million.

Dundee’s journey through its creative and cultural renaissance has seen it punch above its weight and this seems likely to continue with Scottish Enterprise Tayside predicting annual growth of between 10 and 20 per cent within the digital media sector.

The employment boost to the sector is being assisted by a change in attitude among graduates that has been about erosion rather than overnight transformation. Where once highly-skilled creatives would start planning their route out of Dundee – most likely to London – midway through their third year, the city’s cutting edge companies have helped retention rates increase dramatically. In 2003 Dundee company Jack’s Hoose Music helped produce the music for the Matrix films and it is hard to ignore such enticements.

Retaining and attracting talent are both seen as key factors in the vision to have Dundee recognised internationally as a hub of excellence in digital media.

In some ways it’s a mystery that Dundee doesn’t have more of a creative reputation than it does. The city is, after all, home to one of the most respected design colleges in the UK (Duncan of Jordanstone), and has already put itself firmly on the map in the development of computer games. Yet in the marketing services arena Dundee still lags behind the central belt in terms of its profile.

The situation becomes even more confusing when you take into account that several of the area’s creative agencies are working with national, and even international, companies.

With this in mind The Drum decided to profile some Dundee-based creative agencies, giving a short insight into what makes them tick, as well as their goals moving forward and general views on the state of the industry. Below you will find a brief glimpse of six agencies, with some details about how long they have been on the scene and what work they do. There are also web addresses to visit for additional information.

These agencies represent a section of the Scottish industry which, though often overlooked, delivers a strong service to a wide client-base.


Company founded: 2003

Staff employed: Three, and looking for a fourth.


Marketing disciplines: Website design and development, content management systems, online marketing and branding, information architecture, accessibility and usability testing, domain and hosting management, corporate identity, brochures and promotional literature, annual reports, point of sale and packaging, exhibitions and signage, packaging, press advertising, print buying.

Specialist business sector(s): A large proportion of the agency’s work comes from the property, financial and tourism sectors. Oomph has a particular specialism within the property development sector, producing a complete range of marketing collateral for several high profile housebuilders, including Guild Homes, whose new homes in the £400,000+ price bracket in Dundee have been in part selling well on the back of a website created by the agency.

Clients: Ellen’s Lingerie, GoodInvestor, Gifts International, Scotland Online, Scottish Golf Tours, Planet Hockey, Promote Angus, Blanton’s Bourbon.

Main achievements in the last year: Continuing to raise the agency’s profile in the marketplace and getting on more pitch lists. Also, expanding client list to include clients not only in the central belt but throughout the UK and overseas. Director, Stephen Whyte remarked: “Locally our name is becoming synonymous with good design and we are finding ourselves being asked more frequently to pitch for any new design work locally, and particularly for any high-profile, top-end web projects. We are also becoming known further a field and are picking up new clients in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Of late we have worked remotely with clients from Manchester, London, America and Spain.”

Main goals for the year ahead: “To continue to establish our reputation for effective design and to roll out our offering to a wider audience,” said Whyte. “Also, to grow our client base, offer some new services and add a new member to the design team.”

DJS Creative Marketing

Company founded: 1994

Staff employed: Five


Marketing disciplines: Integrated visual communications.

Specialist business sector(s): Media. The agency has a long track record with S&UN (Scottish & Universal Newspapers), SRNS (Scottish Radio Network Sales), DC Thomson.

Clients: Blackadders Solicitors, Radio Clyde, The Courier, TSPC.

Main achievements in the last year: Derek Souter, managing director, says that the agency’s biggest achievement has been to stay in business during a tough 18 months for the industry. The agency has also developed an in-house creative and production facility for television ads.

Main goals for the year ahead: To develop new clients and expand the agency’s TV creative and development work.

Positive factors about being based in Dundee: Souter commented: “It’s a great place to live, easy to travel to work and easy to drive or get a train to anywhere in Scotland. The lower cost base here is also an advantage.”

Views on the industry: “Personally I believe the media owners, advertising agencies and media independents need to re-assess the concept and implementation of agency/media commission,” commented Souter. “Since the rise to prominence of media independents/dependents a number of crucial grey areas have arisen. These need to be addressed for the benefit of the industry.”

The Puffin Room

Company founded: 1999

Staff employed: Five


Marketing disciplines: Design for print, packaging, web design, exhibition design.

Specialist business sector(s): None. Although the agency does a lot of packaging design in the food industry.

Clients: Johnston Carmichael, Equal Exchange, Mackays of Carnoustie, Scottish Liqueur Centre, Inveralmond Brewery, Albacom, Perth Racecourse, Surafti UK, Sensation: Dundee.

Main achievements in last year: Won two pitches for Scottish Liqueur Centre and Inveralmond Brewery.

Main goals for the year ahead: To continue to grow and to increase the range of services the agency offers to its clients. Evelyn Hardie, creative director, said: “The Puffin Room provides a creative service which is personal, friendly but professional and we aim to nurture this.”

Positive factors about being based in Dundee: “The city is centrally placed for working with companies in Tayside, Fife, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.” Hardie also states that the quality of life is better in Dundee than in the central belt. Dundee is also gaining a good reputation for its creative industries.

Views on the industry: “More companies seem to be realising the benefits of working with a design agency rather than the printer down the road or doing their own design work,” commented Hardie. “Although there is still a long way to go to convince some businesses that it is a service worth paying for.”

Blue Square

Company founded: 1987

Staff employed: 14


Subsidiary companies: Blue Square E-business

Marketing disciplines: Design, advertising, e-commerce.

Specialist business sector(s): Education, healthcare, tourism, manufacturing.

Main achievements in the last year: The purchase of a new subsidiary company in Aberdeen.

Main goals for the year ahead: To grow the e-commerce side of the agency.

Positive factors about being based in Dundee: Jim Patrick, managing director, cites the “great quality of life” as the main advantage of being based in the city.

Views on the Industry: Patrick said: “There is a tendency for last-minute design requirements, which sometimes leads to poor results. We must value the quality of our designs, and encourage our clients to plan accordingly, allowing the correct time for the design process.”

Avian Communications

Company founded: 1986

Staff employed: 22


Marketing disciplines: The agency is split into three dedicated teams: advertising, design and IT. The specialist disciplines have been built through the acquisition of other companies.

Clients: Lloyds TSB Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Walkers Shortbread, Keep Scotland Beautiful.

Main achievements in the last year: Expanding the IT-related back-end programming side of the business, allowing the agency to provide more sophisticated web solutions to its clients.

Main goals for the year ahead: To continue to grow the IT programming side of the business.

Positive factors about being based in Dundee: Scott McCallum, client services director at the agency, said the “lifestyle and parking availability” are the two main advantages of being based in Dundee.

Views on the industry: “We’ve had our best ever year, but I know this flies in the face of a marketplace which has become more competitive as a whole,” remarked McCallum. “When you tender for pitches you are pitching against more and more agencies now, which is not encouraging.”

Splash Scotland

Company founded: January 2005

Staff employed: Five


Sister company: bigonprint

Marketing disciplines: Advertising, direct marketing, digital services, print management (bigonprint: direct promotional print).

Main goals for the year ahead: Ross Arroll, managing director at Splash Scotland, said: “We have big plans for Splash Scotland and would love for your company to play your part in what we’re sure will be a very exciting success story. We are Splash Scotland. We are new, we are young, and we are hungry to build relationships.”

Positive factors about being based in Dundee: Arroll states that exciting things are happening in Dundee and the agency is positive about being part of the city’s progression.

Views on the industry: “ The industry is becoming more cut throat day by day,” said Arroll.


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