New opportunities arise from weaknesses

In ’normal’ hard times, the traditional process is to reduce fixed costs; refine and reduce your service offering. But in crisis times like this, you must rethink the business model. Companies that survive and go on to prosper look beyond costs and services to the weaknesses that existed in the business operations.

The reassuring results from the COVID19 snapshot of the Australian design industry shows this is the way many design business owners are thinking.

Just some of the responses:

It has proven to us that it is possible for the team to work remotely and still stay connected. It’s not perfect but it’s definitely do-able!

I’m looking forward to new directions in which society and business will operate – new opportunities that arise from what was weak.

I’m now finding clients who work more ethically, support communities and understand the times we’re in. I’m doing a complete re-look at who I am as a designer and what I desire to contribute to the world.

A new business model

During the last few weeks we have been fielding many phone calls from design business owners each day. The reassuring thing is the positivity. Most are looking at this crises as an opportunity to make changes. We are encouraging them to think like a start-up. Look at the environment that existed, look at what exists now and then the business that they want in the future.

This four phases of a design business model allows you to examine where you are and where you would like to be.

4 stages of a design businessCraft

The craft phase is where many studios begin. Studio owners setup shop because they want to practise their craft in their own way, with the clients they want to work with, doing the type of work they want to do.

They feel held back by their employer. They believe they can do better if they have full control

Most studios in this phase lack any sophisticated business expertise. They tend to replicate what they thought their previous employer was doing in their business practice.

They will take on any work that comes their way.

Their business growth is opportunistic rather than planned.

They are usually a one- or two-person studio.

They also tend to be in the non-employing category.


In this phase the studio owner has developed highly tunes craft skills  and realises they need to establish a business model. They examine their client base, start to work out who their competitors are and look at employing designers. They realise they need to get the financial basis correct.

They want to grow the business but they often lack the resources: time, money, staff and expertise.

They recognise that they have to become more sophisticated in their business model but they are battling to work out how.

They know they have built up a great deal of expertise and knowledge about their clients’ businesses.

Typically this studio will employ fewer than four people.


In this phase the studio owner has established themselves as a successful design business and realises they need to develop a strategic. They re-examine their business model and develop a strategic model. They have the resources that allows them time to do this, or an income level that supports the use of consultants to assist them.

By this point they have specialised and their service offering is focused on a design discipline e.g. branding or an industry group (e.g. FMCG packaging).

They have built the studio to a size that supports large clients or they have chosen to stay small and focus on a select group of clients


At this level the studio owner becomes a resource rather than a service. They work at a higher level, showing businesses how to build design into their corporate culture.

They will probably conduct design audits that guide other studios in the implementation of strategic design. They are design managers rather than design ‘doers’.


Chose which phase you want to be in and then examine your current abilities. Set out what it will take for you to move to the next phase. What skills will you need to acquire? Where can you get those skills? Inhouse upskilling or collaboration?

If you want to learn more about how the DBC is helping the Australian design community contact Greg Branson.

Greg Branson

Contact Greg Branson if you would like to learn more about the many programs the DBC offers.

SUBSCRIBE: Subscribe to get Design Business Review, Australia’s only online design management magazine.

Greg Branson

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.