Staying relevant: designers need business skills

Clients expect that you’ll deliver all the elements of the designer’s craft; brand consistency, slick on-brief design, coding, style guides, prototyping, testing  etc. If that’s all you offer you have about 12,000 competitors in Australia.

Gaining business skills could reduce this to about 500 competitors. These skills can move you into the field of Business Design.

A business designer understands their clients’ business. But first they have to prove they are a successful business owner who understand how to help a business grow.

The problem is that the vast majority of design agencies have been founded by traditionally trained craft based designers. Their business knowledge has been learned ‘on the job’. The hard knocks MBA.

University and TAFE educators are not interested in developing courses in design studio management. If they ever do they will take an academic approach to a subject that requires hands on skills built on real life (studio) practice.

I experienced this with one University where I spent years working in a committee (pro bono) to develop a design management degree course to have the Dean decide it was too practical and needed to be more academic.

Design studio management essentials

So what does a designer need to know about business management?

It begins by understanding there are seven essential areas to master in their business.

This is understanding that they can then apply to a clients’ business as a Business designer.

The industry. Begin with understanding the industry you are in. You can’t define your competitive advantage without understanding the landscape you operate in.

The structure. Then set up the structure that will give you the best chance to succeed. Define what skills will be needed and how you will get them; employees, freelancers, associates.

The culture. Having defined the structure you then spell out the culture that you want. How people will perceive you business, how they will work in and add to your business.

The processes. Your clients and team need processes to assure them that you are in control of the situation. Setting up and managing workflows is essential here.

The clients. Gaining and retaining clients is a critical part of the process. Understanding how to persuade clients to trust you, buy your product and then stay loyal is the single largest task in business management.

The competitors. Having developed a client bas you now identify your competitors and understand their weaknesses and strengths.

The finances. Finally but very importantly you need a firm grasp on the financial performance of your business.

Take away point

The ideal design studio management course would offer all this and allow you to apply it to your studio as you learn. It would be based on local experience from practitioners who have developed successful design businesses.


Got a question? Want to share your point of view? Please feel free to email me.

Want more information like this? Subscribe to get weekly Design Business Review articles, Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers.

Greg Branson

Contact Greg Branson if you would like to learn more about the many programs the DBC offers.

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path. Contact Greg.