Design maturityDeveloping a mature Australian design industry

There has been much recent social media comment about the branding of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). The new brand was developed by a UK firm after a tender process.

Some comments have criticised AGDA for not championing design and making the point that these type of projects should go to Australian design agencies. I agree with this criticism but I also acknowledge, that like governments, we only get what we are prepared to support. If AGDA is at fault then the whole design industry is at fault.

If you look at the US and UK you will see very strong design associations; Design Management Institute (DMI), Design Business Association (DBA), UK Design Council. The latter is government funded while the others are supported by members. However I doubt that Australian design agencies would be prepared to pay the fees that support the DMI and DBA. The fees we pay AGDA will never allow it to successfully champion design in Australia.

Championing design in Australia requires an understanding of design maturity. Understanding how a mature use of design can benefit a business. An acceptance by design agencies they need to understand what makes a mature design user.

It’s all about design maturity

The concept of design maturity has had a great deal of traction in the US, UK and Europe for more than a decade.

In 2017 the DBC started a project to identify the level of design maturity in Australian design businesses and their clients. We set out to measure how design agencies recognised design maturity. We then set out to measure the design maturity of their client.

For a year we spoke to many agency owners. We found 10 to take part. Along the way we recognised the concept of design maturity was foreign to design agency owners. It comes down to isolation. The agency owners could talk about global design trends but had little understanding of how globally successful design agencies managed their business and worked as a business partner to their clients. They aspired to this but had very few ideas on accomplishing it. They thought that design only applied to the marketing area of the clients’ business. Even though we identified 9 other areas that could use design they could not grasp the possibility of selling design to improve logistics for example.

The DBC design maturity project worked closely with businesses in Aged Care, Superannuation, Energy, Software technology, Recycling, Youth advocacy, Food services, Not for profit, Business Technology. By the end of this project we gained a great deal of intelligence on how these industries use design and how they could make greater use of it.

The take away from this work is that very few businesses recognise the breadth of their design use. They don’t stop to analyse how it’s helping their business and where it could improve their bottom line.

We don’t see the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, The Australian Institute of Management or the Australian Industry Group talking about how important design is to their membership. They have passing or no reference to the value of design on their websites. They have no recognition of design maturity.

Put Design Maturity into a Google search and the only Australian results are from the DBC.

There is hope

Some Australian design agencies are beginning to use the design maturity approach in working with their clients. They are showing design can be part of every aspect of a sustainable business.

Gould Studio, a Sydney based agencies, has linked design maturity to business transformation in a recent article. They take a global look at design maturity and its bottom line impact. This article is directly aimed at their client base.

BWD a Sydney based advisory firm specialises in sustainable business strategy and understands design maturity. With a team of 6 designers they use design to help businesses report on their sustainability activity. They have a ‘4Cs’ sustainable business package that gives a roadmap to guide long-term decision-making. This is a design integrated holistic look at the business.

Luke Heilbuth, BWD’s MD, recently expounded his thinking at The Australian Financial Review CFO Live event. This is exactly the type of event we need design mature agencies presenting to.

Both of these agencies took part in the Design Maturity research conducted by DBC.

There is still a lot to do

The three tiers of Australian government are the largest collective buyer of design services in Australia. Having them become design mature users and encouraging design mature agencies would be a massive boost to our economy. This begins with a federal design policy like that established across the EU nations. The closest we came to a federal design approach was with the Creative Industries Innovation Centre. This body and the valuable work it undertook was axed by the Abbott government.

Is it any wonder that entities like the Australian Centre for the Moving Image does not take Australian design agencies seriously? As a cultural institution funded from the Victorian public purse it beggars belief that they would fight so hard for funding and then spend it on a London agency.

This leaves us with an Australian design industry needing to get more involved with every aspect of a clients’ business. A need to understand what makes a mature design user; how to move a design user up the maturity ladder to the point that they see design (and local designers) as critical to their success.

Greg Branson

Want more?

Here’s more information on design maturity:

  1. Some great research conducted by Invision
  2. A report on the DBC design maturity project
  3. How design mature are your clients.

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