What do you do?

Explaining the value of design management

Some clients think paying for design management is like paying for bottled water.
They can’t see any value.
It’s not really a necessity.
They only pay for it under duress, when there is no alternative.

I have two counter arguments:

Option 1: Air traffic controller.

Being a design manager is like being an air traffic controller.

If an airport has one north-south runway, and only one plane is taking off, there’s probably not a great need for the skill.
Add a plane approaching at the same time as a plane taking off, and the need increases.
Add a east-west runway, a few more planes circling overhead waiting for their slot, and the need for management increases.
Now make the planes all different sizes, with variable approach speeds. Add pilots with different accents and it is getting interesting.
Include a strong side wind that closes one of the runways and it’s game on – especially if you don’t want one crash landing to shut the whole airport.

I think an airport is like a studio.

The planes are incoming projects, and the pilots the clients.
Design management is having processes and practices in place to avoid mid-air collisions.
Design management is the pre-emptive planning that ensures everyone can do their job well, even under duress. And worst case scenarios are always avoided.

Design management bookends design. It’s the preparation that ensures designers work as effectively and efficiently as possible.


Option 2: Film producer.

A design manager is much like  a film producer.

A film wouldn’t get off the ground without one (or more) producers.

They don’t necessarily act but have a hand in every part of the production.
They source the idea, the script writers, and the funding.
They source the right actors, the production crew and the studio.
They negotiate, they cajole, and they liaise.
They do everything except stand infront of the camera.

Design managers are very similar.

They don’t necessarily design but they are active across every aspect of a studio.
They prepare estimates, budgets and resources.
They negotiate, they cajole, and they liaise.
They research, they document, and they brief.
And they maintain quality control, delivery timelines and invoicing.

Often that all happens before a project is introduced into the studio.

Actors aren’t much without scripts, lights and camera.
Similarly, designers can’t design without briefs, budgets and clients.


The takeaways.

1. Design management is literally everything that happens in a studio except design.

2. I love a good analogy.

Carol Mackay

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The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

Carol is a graphic designer with 30+ years experience managing Mackay Branson design, a successful Melbourne design studio co-founded with Greg Branson.

In 2018 Carol pivoted from client-driven work to (re)join Greg at the Design Business Council. There she uses her experience to help designers build robust businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design. Carol’s prime skill has been her ability to translate difficult to understand or complex messages through design. She believes design brings clarity to complex issues. From clarity comes understanding, and understanding leads to knowledge.

In 2018 she co-founded the Clear Communication Awards, and the Business of Design Week. Both will be run in 2019

Carol has the mindset of a designer and the focus of a business-owner. Her special skill is comprehension – the ability to listen, understand the situation and use design to translate complex messages into plain language.

An archive of her design work at mbdesign.com.au.
Her current work can be viewed at designbusinesscouncil.com and designbusinessschool.com.au.

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