I’ve just read a fascinating article on the AGDA website. (AGDA stands for the Australian Graphic Design Association.) You will especially find this interesting if you run a design consultancy.
The article is a comparison of the organisational structures of Pentagram and Wolff Olins. It was written by Lucy Elliot in 1999. Lucy won some sort of prize (I think) to visit these consultancies and write this article.
Obviously Pentagram is organised around the Partners and Wolff Olins is run like most companies with Managers, Managing Director and Chairman etc. She says that Pentagram’s organisational structure is like a spiders web with the partner acting as the big spider in the middle. Wolff Olins’ structure is like a net with all the employees joined together like the links of the net.
About Pentagram Lucy asks, “whether the partnership is equipped to take on the future.” She writes, “one former designer suggests that ‘it should die peacefully. It has made its mark’”.
“The problem at the moment is that while the Pentagram is struggling to find new partners to fit this culture, the existing partners are clinging to old views.”
About Wolff Olins she writes, “The culture is based around the task which respects the contributions and talent of individuals.”
“Wolff Olins has weathered its maturity and is currently in a rejuvenation phase.”
“The latest source of culture comes from the new. New leaders, new clients and new employees. This shows an invigorated team progressing confidently without the founders.”
Interesting isn’t it? Especially as that article was written in 1999. Surely Wolff Olins’ fortunes have declined since then whilst Pentagram’s haven’t risen but have stayed largely the same. This is the secret of Pentagram’s success. Year after year fashionable design companies come and go, hot shots get cold and stars fade. Pentagram keeps going. Still number 1 in that creativity chart Design Week do. Still winning D&AD awards. Still winning the big projects we’d all love to work on.
I’m biased because I love Pentagram (I think of them like The Beatles) but I do know people who have worked there and hated it. I know people find them old fashioned and I know some of the partners can be bloody minded.
So read the article and decide what you think.