the design studio university

The university that builds your business

Very few universities or private providers teach studio owners business management. Business courses are too generic and don’t consider the unique needs of creative business owners. Design courses (undergraduate and postgraduate) don’t include the business knowledge a studio owner needs.

Added to this every owner is seeking the holy grail of having the whole team working ON the business.

That’s why some studio owners are setting up their own ‘in-house university’.

When I set up the Design Business School, Business of Design Leadership Program I intended it would have ongoing benefit in the studio as an inhouse university. This is now happening.

Building your university

The starting point is to build a solid management group within the studio. This can be done by setting up a leadership team that meets regularly to look at the operations of the business (not the creative). One of the tasks for this group is to work out what skills are needed in the studio and how to start a studio university. The aim of this university is to draw on the studio skills and spread them throughout the team. This helps build the business (everyone ends up working on the business) and improves studio morale.

Defining the skills

The management team begins by identifying all the skills available in the studio as well as each designer’s aspirations. From this they build a matrix that shows where the inhouse skills are available and where new skills are needed. For instance, one of my studios identified some of the designers felt uncomfortable dealing with clients. The client service team took the role of teacher and shared their skills using role play exercises.

The studio was able to expand client management to the designers which cut down on those dreaded communication gaps. The designers felt more confident and expressed their increased job satisfaction in their annual reviews.

A self-funded university

The matrix also showed where the studio needed some external training and how that investment could be brought back into the studio. The studios who have done the Business of Design program are able to use the skills they developed to help other studio members upskill. This includes areas such as time management, client management, selling design value, evidence based design, design research and building a business case for a design project.

The aim is to plan the university so that all the time taken by staff is paid as part of client jobs – a self-funded professional development program!

Take away

Examine the skills and aspirations of the whole studio, then build a matrix as the start point for your university.


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

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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.

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