Here’s the future as we see it…

It’s hard to focus on the future when so much is about the here and now.
Right now, nearly half Australia’s population in lockdown. Again.

It means everyone focusses directly on what’s in front of them.
There isn’t much time for reflection or forecasting.
Especially when forward planning is near to impossible.

Our role is to peer deep into the future.
Here’s what we think…

Australia’s creative industry is flourishing

We know from working with designers in our roundtables and mentoring. Many have sales funnels stretching months into the future and are struggling to keep up with client activity.

And we know from employment prospects in our network. Our industry is nearing full employment, especially in the senior  ranks, and that demonstrates the industry growth.

Work from home is starting to hurt

There has been much written and reported about the future of work post COVID. A lot focuses on efficiency and increased productivity, which is good for many industries but too much focus on these can ruin a creative business. Especially when working remotely.

We’re working with agencies stressed about the gradual loss of their cooperative culture while their team is remote. Design is a collaborative exercise based on trust; it needs close contact to grow. Many agency owners are asking their design team to move back to the studio after the lockdown. We think it’s a trend that will continue – especially with the increase of onboarding new team members.

The ‘outputs vs outcomes’ struggle improves

In the business sector the perception of design agencies is they produce artifacts (outputs: websites, digital brochures, brands, logos etc). There is little or no consideration of the skills used to produce these outputs.

Clients have rarely seen the design agencies focus on outcomes such as a positive user or customer experience. We predict this will improve as more clients transfer their business to an online presence and a explore better ways to explain their services. Clients are more receptive to customer experience and how it leads into design.

Clients want designers who understand their business

The rate of change is so fast past successes are no longer relevant. Clients are focused on the future and they want to work with designers who understand their business and can show how design can shape  future directions. Clients, like designers, have their head down getting the work done, managing a remote workforce while still trying to meet targets. They seek creative input. 

Inhouse design teams are the new competitors

Large management consultancies (PwC, Deloitte, Boston Consulting Group etc) are still buying up independent creative agencies of all types. They are creating new competitors to independent design firms. They’re also expanding the market by increasing the knowledge of design value within large corporations. This should eventually have a trickle down effect for all design businesses and their clients.

Inhouse creative teams now rival independently-owned studios in quality, experience and skills. Inhouse designers are no longer seen as lesser-skilled designers – the C-suite is starting to recognise the value they can add in all areas of a business. 

Design is in business more than ever

Design has moved from the aesthetic to the empathic level. Clients want design solutions based on a deep understanding of their customers. This is compounded by the demand for instant response.

Design agencies are doing discovery sessions that investigate and include business models. They’re using customer journey mapping, value proposition development and business model mapping.

We’re competing across state boundaries

Competition has never been more intense with studios based in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane (88% of the Australian design market) all able to compete without having to establish separate state studios. The acceptance of Zoom calls makes it easier to compete interstate. Agencies are on the move.

There are new business opportunities

It’s encouraging Australian businesses collectively make relatively low use of design. It means there is still plenty of business growth for designers, and many designers are taking the initiative. They’re finding disruptive inroads into corporate areas previously devoid of design. Some designers are working directly as consultants in areas such as HR where the realised hourly rates are more akin to business consultants rather than designers. Our work on the Design Maturity Index showed a massive opportunity for design throughout a business value chain.

What all this means

With approx. 85% of Australian design agencies employing five or less people, in the medium term, there is sufficient work producing artifacts, outputs and assets.


As artificial intelligence, asset libraries and cheap software (Canva) improve, more small-to-medium clients will just not need this type of design. This is a real risk if you are in your 30’s and hoping to stay in the industry without learning new skills.

Basic HCD skills such as customer journey mapping and empathy mapping with research skills will extend the working life of small studios. Moving this into using jobs-to-be done, the value proposition canvas and the business model canvas will increase competitiveness. It also moves small design agencies into the type of work being done by larger agencies and consulting firms.

Contact Greg if you would like to learn more about using the design value chain to create competitive advantage for your clients

Greg Branson

Want more?

Here’s more information on design maturity:

  1. Walk a day in your clients shoes – empathy mapping
  2. Understanding a client to develop new business
  3. How design mature are your clients.

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