When you have that ‘stuck’ feeling

So it’s been nine months now since I started my new job. I only hesitate for a moment now when I’m asked where I’m from. Design Business Council nearly slips off my tongue but not quite. It’s tough after 33 years – Mackay Branson design was so much part of my identity.

It’s different when people ask what I do.
I don’t hesitate at all.
I’ve got it worked out.
May not be business-speak but it’s accurate.
I help designers that are stuck.

It’s taken me a while to work out the common thread that links DBC clients: it’s that they are ‘stuck’. As an aside, I did think the common thread would be that they are all designers, but more accurately they are ‘creators’. We not only work with designers, we work with writers, photographers, architects, interior designers and product designers. So, design isn’t the commonality.

The common element is they are all stuck.

Some get stuck with clients.

Some designers get stuck with clients. Not necessarily (but sometimes) the wrong clients. More often, their clients are stuck on a direction, or a process, or a medium, and the designer is finding it difficult to unstick them.

We help unsticking because we work at the intersection of where design and business meet.

Most designers (apart from, it seems Shaynna Blaze) have learnt it is of no value to argue for a design on the basis I’m a designer and I know better.
It’s arrogant and completely subjective.

DBC teach designers heuristic tools/systems/processes to help their clients think differently.
To help move a project on.
Or to help focus the problem solving.

James De Vries explains it perfectly on a recent ADR episode.

Heuristic tools help flip a problem or flip thinking to get over a stumbling block.

They can be handy to help a group move from point A to point B. They create a common language and a common ‘what could be’.

We teach tools like the design business model canvas, or empathy or customer journey mapping. Activities that can be done (read billed to) a client to further explore a problem, or identify options.

Some designers get stuck with other designers.

Managing designers is tough. It is not for the faint-hearted. On one hand we want them to think outside the box and be passionate about design. On the other hand, we’re business-owners that need staff to work business hours and acknowledge when a client is right (even when they can be a little bit wrong).

When a business owner gets stuck in a head-to-head tussle with a designer, we help unstick the situation with tools like personal skills audit, appraisal forms or development plans that lead to accurate and accessible job descriptions.

When that doesn’t help we can help unstick by teaching negotiation tactics that leave emotion at the door.

We unstick by creating solid foundations where everyone feels safe, and rewarded, and respected.

Some businesses get stuck.

Sometimes a designer can get stuck within their own business model. Pivoting is in, but change is hard.

Designers can get stuck running a business the way their old boss did. That’s problematic because what worked then doesn’t necessarily work now.

Some design businesses get stuck in a client industry that they don’t like. Or a client industry that is dying a slow death. Or one that is too competitive.

We run workshops that help explore options. We all have interchangeable skills. No design business should be stuck doing something that they do not enjoy or doesn’t reward them financially. Which leads to…

Some business get stuck because they have no cashflow.

Some businesses get stuck within a job pricing model that’s plain and simple unsustainable. It may help the business survive in the short term, but isn’t a basis to grow, nor prosper.

We have benchmarks and modelling for the Australian design industry honed from analysing hundreds of Australian design businesses.

We can identify ratios that are skewed. KPI’s like productivity hours compared to billable hours; or monthly rent payment compared to annual turnover or even total wage bill as compared to total staff numbers. Numbers are great. They can be analysed, and they are measurable. Diagnosing a set of figures has proven to be a great unsticker.

We unstick the stuck. We have no formula. We just have my experience managing my own studio mixed with Greg’s experience consulting to hundreds of Australian design studios. Every problem is different, and that’s part of the reason we don’t do public workshops and seminars.

So ask me where I’m from and I may hesitate from just a moment.
Ask me what I do, and I give clarity.
I work for a business that helps designer get unstuck (and I’m loving it).


Carol Mackay

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2018 is a big year for Carol. Thirty-three years after founding Mackay Branson design, she transitioned from client-focused projects to use her skills with the Design Business Council, and The Design Business School. Her skill has always been using design to translate difficult to understand or complex messages into bite-size chunks of information, more palatable and easier to digest. She did to do that for government organisations, ombudsman schemes and the judicial and finance sectors. Now Carol uses the same skills to translate business concepts into practical tools, resources and skills designers can use everyday.

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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