The theatre model – design studios reimagined

Many creative business owners are moving to the theatre model (sometimes called the Hollywood or film model). Instead of employing other creatives, they hire on a project-by-project basis. It’s a proven model.

Problem is, I think many are missing the point…

The best teams are made up of people with many skills. So, a designer, overloaded with work and hiring other designers is not necessarily working as the theatre model. It’s just cloning – after all, many hands make light work.

No doubt, swelling your workforce is a solution to outputing more of the same kind of work. Another solution is to use the model to extend your skill base and reach. That is, rather than repeat the same skill, think about complementing your skill by collaborating with another creative with a different skill.

A company of skills

Strong sustainable creative businesses are groupings of skilled individuals working as a team. There are specific skills needed to deliver a creative solution. Often because creative businesses are micro-businesses, one person may deliver one or more of these skills.

The risk in wearing many hats is some tasks may be underdone or overlooked completely. That’s a problem because in a successful business there is no weak link. There’s lots of overlapping but each of these skills is performed well.

The theatre model

In the theatre, a director, actors, set, costume, and lighting designers, and often a dramaturg collaborate for each performance.

Similarly, each creative business has a cast of roles:


Someone – often the founder – responsible for the positioning, the goals and the strategy of the business.


The person responsible for getting stuff done. It’s leadership for sure, but it’s also about the WIP, the planning, the training, technology, and management of a business.

Creative leader:

Not only creating, this person mentors, inspires and builds the creative team. They’re responsible for the oversight of creative direction and strategy. They may also lead client servicing and new business development.

Business development:

A mixture of reactive account service and proactive marketing. Someone responsible for responding to incoming: negotiating, writing pitches, and estimating; but also proactive in marketing and outreach activities.


The money person, responsible for day-to-day bookkeeping, liaison with accountant and budgeting.

Project/client management:

It’s about delivering the goods. It’s the oversight of the budget, the schedule, the workflow and above all, it’s about communication between the client the studio/agency.


The problem solver taking responsibility for strategic thinking, brand, and content strategy.

Creative development:

Responsible for executing the creative output. It’s taking leadership in creative direction, strategy, and people to achieve creative excellence and profitability.


The do-er. The person who takes the creative design concepts from design to production. May also manage production, planning, and suppliers.


It’s often written it is much easier to get more work from existing clients than find new clients. Extending your skill base, being able to offer more skills and more solutions is a successful way to get more work. Clients may not have more of the same type of work, but they may have different creative problems to solve.

If you’re a micro-business, go into the mirror room and take a long hard look at yourself. What aspects of your business do you do well, what aspects do you love and what aspects are you happy to delegate?  Not sure? Use the personal journey map to dive deep into your background and your skill base.

Similarly, look for the gaps in your knowledge and delivery. Skills where collaboration with like-minded, complementary creatives would broaden your playlist.  Because that’s when the theatre model works best.

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, Carol pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry.

Carol’s special power has always been an ability to use design to translate difficult to understand or complex messages. She believes design brings clarity to complex issues. From clarity comes understanding, and understanding leads to knowledge.

As a designer she used those skills with clients like The Magistrates, County and Supreme Courts; Ombudsman schemes and Emergency Service agencies. At DBC she uses the same skills to help designers de-mystify the complexities of managing a small business.

Outside of DBC Carol mentors graduates and is an active volunteer at Never Not Creative, a community of creatives pushing for change in the creative industry.


An archive of Carol’s previous career is at
Current work can be viewed at and

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