Building a studio culture

Remote working delivers many personal benefits, from increased ‘me’ time because of the reduced commute through to improved baking skills.

One less positive effect was the hit to studio culture. The mindless chatter as we sat alongside fellow designers for hours a day was replaced with choreographed ‘catch-ups’ and instagramable recipe exchanges.

Many are unsure of the impact to team spirit. One studio we’re working with isn’t waiting to find out…


Culture is such a difficult term. It’s hard to define and even harder to build. Activities aimed at improving studio culture may work for one team but feel invasive for another.

Problem is culture is very difficult to bottle. It’s an intangible. It radiates from the source … from the founders or, in an inhouse studio, the management or leadership team. The further away from the nucleus, the thinner the culture.

I know culture can be described and it can be demonstrated. Now I know, it can also be visualised.

Defining studio culture

In a microstudio (a solo operator or a two-person team) culture is constantly demonstrated in thoughts and actions. It’s instinctive and doesn’t need to be captured or communicated to others.

Problem is, as a business grows, those defining thoughts are often not communicated. Through the pressure of deadlines or the replacement of the original staff, the culture diminishes. For many studios remote working has had the same impact. The reduction of external physical relationships combined with the growth in introspection and personal relationships has made it harder to rebuild the camaraderie of the studio.

Culture is spread by osmosis rather than a scheduled chat. And it is rarely documented

How to build studio culture

If someone had asked me whether the ‘feeling’ of a studio could be documented and successfully communicated, I’d probably have said no. But then I saw how.

A studio we’re working alongside has just captured their culture in a publication. It’s not a folio piece and it’s probably not for client eyes. It’s purely to help a diverse team get on the same page and restart their thinking.

The (printed) publication is a visual reference to why the studio was founded and how the founders felt about taking that first step. They talk about the type of clients and the type work they wanted.

The design doesn’t reference any client work, instead it demonstrates their ideal imagery and typography. It’s brilliantly designed but it’s not a prescription to a studio look and feel. Instead it’s like a recipe for problem solving without ingredients. Instead it talks tastes, flavours, and sounds.

The intent is for employees to get a glance ‘under the hood’ of the studio. To share invisible facets of management designers don’t usually get to see.

The aim is to show the team what they’ve helped to build and what their combined skills deliver.


The result is better than a folio piece. It’s a time capsule of where the studio is now and from where they’ve come from.

I am sure it will instil pride and ownership in current and new employees.
It’s a perfect way to communicate and build the culture of a studio.


What do you think? Got any problems/questions? As always, happy to discuss further, just email.

Carol Mackay

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About Carol Mackay

After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, I pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council I use my experience, and research, as a design mentor and coach. I 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 research, mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

An archive of my previous career is at
My current work can be viewed at and

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