Building a for-purpose studio

We help studios build more sustainable businesses – not just financially sustainable – emotionally sustainable. Studios you want to work in, and suppliers/clients you want to work with.

Without doubt, most designers want to work with the same type of clients: for-purpose businesses that give back to the community; clients in the not-for-profit, cultural or social services.

Two problems with that: firstly, many of these clients don’t budget for design; and secondly, for those that do, the competition is fierce. Luckily, there’s another way to building a for-purpose studio.


The problem for most design studios is the bread and butter clients – the ones with recurring needs that pay the overheads month in and month out – are often very much for-profit. They’re FMCG, they’re retail and they’re big business. Perfect in many ways but can be seen as the antipathy of for-purpose.

Often the objective of seeking for-purpose clients is to ‘give back’. But ‘servicing others’ is not the only way to give – designers can also be for-purpose by the way they manage inside or outside our industry. For example, you can:

Give back to your employees by being a great manager.
Give back to young graduates by taking on an intern.
Give back to the design industry by championing how design adds value.

Being a great manager:

It is sad that Clayton M Christensen, an American academic, business consultant and professor at the Harvard Business School recently died. He was best known for his disruption innovation techniques – including Greg’s favourite jobs-to-be-done human centred design tool.

Years ago, Christensen wrote about his vision when he was running a company he founded before becoming an academic. It’s food for thought for all of us that manage others:

In my mind’s eye I saw one of my managers leave for work one morning with a relatively strong level of self-esteem. Then I pictured her driving home to her family 10 hours later, feeling unappreciated, frustrated, underutilized, and demeaned. I imagined how profoundly her lowered self-esteem affected the way she interacted with her children.

The vision in my mind then fast-forwarded to another day, when she drove home with greater self-esteem—feeling that she had learned a lot, been recognized for achieving valuable things, and played a significant role in the success of some important initiatives. I then imagined how positively that affected her as a spouse and a parent.

His conclusion was that management – design management/studio management or client management in our world – is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.

Taking on an intern

Interns are a great way to give back to our industry. An internship helps a graduate bridge the gap between studies and the real world. And they’re a win:win.

Internships offer graduates insight into the industry – a foot on the first step of their career ladder – and that’s huge. Better still they’re just as beneficial to the studio. There is no better way for designers to learn to manage (see point above) than taking responsibility for an intern. And they can equip a studio with insight from another gender, demographic or culture.

Problem is, most studios don’t know how to have an intern, or they think it will cost them time, or worse money! That’s where we can help. Recently, I’ve been working with a bunch of great people including Andy Wright, Pip Kennedy and Luke Stewart in an internship change group. The results of the change group – a step by step process on how to take on an intern – will soon to be on the Never Not Creative website. .

We’ve written a business case that proves taking on an intern doesn’t cost the studio money. Infact paying minimum/graduate wages, an intern can actually pay their way, and more. Stay tuned to find out when the website is live but do get in contact if you’d like more information.

Champion how design adds value.

Design can be for-purpose. It can help simplify the complex and make difficult-to-understand information for accessible for the vulnerable, or non- English speaking. Problem is good design can be invisible, so it’s up to us to champion its strength.

That’s the basis of our *Creatives Making Morrison Understand* campaign. The ether is full of difficult to understand, hard to digest information about climate change. Convoluted graphs, complex and long-winded narrative.

Designers can help raise the public consciousness about current environmental disasters and in particular, persuade our Federal Government to take immediate action to minimise climate change. The results will be an exhibition, for us and for the public. The more designers that submit pieces, the more conversations we can start.

Designers making a difference, that’s for-purpose.

Take away.

Not only is it possible to run a for-purpose studio while working with for-profit clients, the What clients think survey makes it clear they prefer studios with a focus.



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.


After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, Carol pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council she uses her experience, and research, to help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.

The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

In 2019 Carol co-founded the Business of Design Week. The next one is scheduled for early 2020.

An archive of her design work at
Her current work can be viewed at and

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