How to share your super power

Everyone (including us) bangs on about life-long learning and the need to continually upskill but it’s hard to know what you need to know.

I can honestly say we have the answer, it’s a tried and tested method to assess what you know and what you don’t. It’s analogue, no tricky app needed, and we know that it works. We’ve used it with literally hundreds of designers, to assess what skills and more importantly what level of skills exist in their studio.

I’m happy to share it with you….

Recognising the range of skills available in your studio is an imperative. Doesn’t matter who does an audit – we think it’s the role of the studio manager, but it could be the general manager or studio owner – best if it’s a management task. Just matters that an audit is done.

What makes it imperative is the limited range of services offered by the majority of Australian studios. Most offer clients exactly the same traditional services. That means selling services on your website won’t help differentiate your studio from others. A better method is to differentiate yourself from others by highlighting the unique group of skills resident in your design team.

Every studio has a unique mix of talents. The skill is in packaging that unique mix and making it attractive to a client.

How to find your unique mix

Determining what you do better than others is one way to build your ‘competitive advantage’ and knowing that advantage helps identify your studio’s ‘onlyness’.

‘Onlyness’ is a whole other story to be explored but it’s basically a collection of things that makes your studio different to others. (This YouTube video will give you the idea.)

When we (as in the Design Business Council) work with a studio, one of our first tasks is to audit the skills at hand. It is amazing what we find. Often we uncover skills not known to others in the team.

Everyone completes a personal appraisal form to identify skills, competencies and knowledge gaps. It’s a time-capsule of where you are in your career and where you would like to be. And it’s not a once-off. Completing a personal appraisal form should be a regular event because skills and teams change.

What to do with those skills … or lack thereof

The second stage – and that’s what I’m sharing today – is a personal skills audit. It’s a self-diagnostic tool about specific skills needed in a studio.

The results are invaluable:

  • on a personal level because they can be used to build individual professional development plans, and that’s what keeps good designers, and
  • on a studio level because they can be used to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the team and that makes a studio sustainable.

Armed with this information, you could even build your own inhouse university.

I have two documents to share. The first is copy of a personal skills audit. The second is an example of a completed personal skills audit – it’s helpful when we’re not there to explain more. Just email and I’ll forward them on.

The takeaway

From a client’s perspective we all do the same thing. But we are not the same. Studios are mixes of different skills and talents that can be interwoven to make something distinctively individual. And that’s the basis of a great value proposition.

A word from our sponsor

Both these forms are an activity in our Design Studio Management Program (giving designers management skills) and the Business of Design leadership program (a management program for the whole studio).



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Carol Mackay

I did this illustration in Lisbon, Portugal. A team of women stood happily under a group of trees near our apartment each morning, listening to music, chatting and tearing hundreds upon hundreds of lettuce leaves ready for the lunch/night service of a nearby restaurant. The lettuce was served with grilled sardines. Yum.


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 design expertise is in making the complex simple. Her special skill is in packaging complicated content into bite-sized chunks of information that can be easily understood and digested.

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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