Twelve: The Magic Number?

Nearly 60% of UK design consultancies employ fewer than five people, yet two of the world’s leading practitioners say 12 is the ideal number of staff to have. So, what is the best size for a design studio?

Nearly 60% of UK design consultancies employ fewer than five people, yet two of the world’s leading practitioners say 12 is the ideal number of staff to have. So, what is the best size for a design studio?

The question arose at yesterday’s Podge lunch – an annual event that this year marked Lynda Relph-Knight’s 20 years as editor of Design Week. Neville Brody and Erik Spiekermann were having one of those ‘so, how are things with you?’ conversations that, right now, tend to involve much nervous touching of wood and finger-crossing. So I asked them, what do you think is the right number of people to have in a studio? Both, without hesitation, gave the same answer – 12. Why? It means you are big enough to take on major projects but small enough to stay in control: any larger and you have to start taking on the kind of work that you’d rather not do just to way the bills.

The question of how to grow (or, this year, more likely how to cut back) without undermining your business seems to be a constant problem for design studios. As we reported recently, Ian Anderson felt that one of the contributory factors to the demise of the Designers Republic was that it had grown too big and had ceased to be the company that he wanted it to be. It’s a familiar tale.

According to the Design Council, 82% of UK design studios have ten or less employees, so the prevailing view is definitely against Spiekermann and Brody. Many of the leading lights in graphics have surprisingly modest operations – Farrow, for example, is just three people, including Mark Farrow himself.

So, in these times when everyone is considering cutting staff numbers and how to re-shape their business, what is the optimum size to be?

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