Photo by Radovan on Unsplash

Bored, disengaged designers.

Sometimes managing a studio is a little like being the entertainment director of the P+O Cruise ship ‘Designer‘. It often falls on the studio manager to keep designers engaged, motivated and focussed. And that’s no mean feat, especially (as a business owner) having a stable of loyal, long-term clients is preferable to a revolving door of new experiences and new briefs.

I think I found a solution…

We all know the 80/20 rule: 80% of our business comes from the top 20% of clients. For a business owner that is gold. It means repeat business from a select group of clients you can get to know well. The studio can form a close relationship with the client, their business and their product. More knowledge makes each design just that little bit easier, which means less time and more profit which equals positive cash flow. All good.

Our industry is obsessed with the shiny over the profound – Tom Goodwin

On the other hand…

Is it unfair to say that designers are often drawn to the new and the shiny? Perhaps. But it’s not unfair to say a designer’s motivation often differs to that of a studio owner. Designers want to try new things, take risks and explore options and that’s not always possible with long-term clients.

The studio self-promotion postcard.

In my former life at Mackay Branson design, we used self-promotion postcards as a bridge between the focus of long-term projects and the need for designers to explore. It worked brilliantly.

Designers (including me) that were often buried in corporate reports (designed to strict branding guidelines) relished the challenge of designing a 10 x 15cm postcard. Similarly, clients who rarely got snail-mail loved receiving a postcard that was often funny and always engaging. It was not unusual to see a year’s worth of postcards pinned to a client’s office wall.

Added bonus: it was the perfect way to demonstrate we had ‘other’ talents clients may not have seen.

Staying top of mind

As a studio owner, I aimed for continual contact with clients, to remain top of their mind. That’s why we designed postcards focussed on specific days that were sprinkled throughout the year. For the cost of a short-print run and a stamp, clients would hear from us around every three months.

Our personalised, printed Christmas card (that had an ROI many, many times over any other promotion – a topic for another article another time) was always followed up with an Australia Day postcard. It did depend who was in the studio, but we often did Valentine’s Day, and always Anzac Day. We sometimes did Queens Birthday, and usually Melbourne Cup.

We did awareness weeks and not-for-profit days. Some were profound, many were obscure and they changed from year to year. May the fourth – Star Wars Day (aaah, suddenly the image makes sense) wasn’t around then but I think it’s a monty for a postcard concept. It would bring a smile to any clients face.

Take away

Ultimately it is each designer’s responsibility to keep themselves motivated, but it can be difficult during an extensive project designed to branding guidelines. We proved promotional postcards are a great way to bring spontaneity into the studio. They’re fun, small side-projects. We often briefed the whole studio, giving them a three hour deadline. After much discussion, the ‘winning’ concept was printed.

It proved a win:win.

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

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Carol Mackay

Carol’s design expertise is in making the complex simple. Her skill is in packaging complicated content into bite-sized chunks of information to be easily understood and digested. 2018 is a big year for Carol. Thirty-three years after founding Mackay Branson design, she is moving from client-focused projects to use her skills with the Design Business Council, and The Design Business School.

Carol has just written a new program for the The Design Business School. The Design Studio Management Program is aimed at designers, design graduates and existing design studio managers to help them develop skills to fast track their career path. Contact Carol for more information.

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