Where are the design changemakers?

The Australian design industry has had a status quo attitude for the past 20 years. The technology has changed and the way of doing things has changed but WHAT we do has not.

Twenty years ago a design businesses offered concept, design, artwork and production services. Look at designer websites today and you’ll see the same services offered, possibly named differently but essentially the same. We know some have made changes but it’s a small percentage of the 16,000 design businesses in Australia.

Australian designers have ignored the move to creative outcomes and continued to focus on creative outputs. Just look at all the design awards in Australia. They continue to focus on the output; the aesthetically pleasing well designed creative visual solution. Admittedly some do reward strategy but it’s usually a subset of branding which focuses on the output aesthetics.

Where are the awards for best customer service solution, the best service blueprint, the innovative design business model, the best design and business strategy integration?

Design awards have reinforced the status quo.

Who is responsible?

We all are. We should have a collective aim to shake up the industry.

Firstly we fix our own house then we start educating clients. It’s happened in the UK, arguably the most advanced design economy globally.

Fixing our own house requires a forward thinking design association. Take a look at the Design Business Association  a strong future focused design association.

Let’s be frank. AGDA has failed to read the room. It’s no longer ‘fit for purpose’. It missed the digital revolution then the HCD space. They abrogated to groups like UX Australia and Service Design Melbourne. They’ve completely missed the largest change in the last five years; the growth of inhouse design studios.

I don’t blame the current management of AGDA. The error was made in 2013 when the constitution was changed to centralise all AGDA functions. The states were the lifeblood of AGDA. The drafters of the new constitution failed to understand the design industry is grass roots; it’s tribal. When they removed the role of the state councils they removed the connections. Look at the success of all the state base advertising and design clubs and groups like IN:WA and AADC. They are flourishing because they offer a local perspective.

In the year before the constitution change, AGDA Victoria had more than 800 professional members. That’s about the total current Australian professional membership. And the industry has almost doubled since then.

We need a business-focused design group – either a revamped AGDA or a group similar to the DBA. We need a professional development program that helps design business owners develop innovative business models that work as business partners for clients. We need to develop awards that involve clients and project outcomes.

So, what are we doing about it

Since founding DBC 15 years ago, we’ve worked with a wide variety of creative businesses, each one with a set of problems and challenges. The insights have led to the development of benchmarks and tools invaluable in managing creative business.

We’ve also built a strong community of like-minded businesses with whom we collaborate.

The latest project is our Happier, Healthier Creative Business Canvas.

We teamed with Andy Wright and Streamtime, to verify and expanding our data. Andy co-chairs Mentally Healthy, and created Never Not Creative – both focused on the well being of creatives. That knowledge and experience is embedded in the canvas making the tool holistic and innovative – there is no management tool with the same expansive focus.

We have now put all this together in the Happier, Healthier Creative Business Canvas we are launching as part the Adelaide Advertising and Design Club Extra Ordinary Talks event and then in Melbourne on November 27.

So what are you doing about defying the status quo?

Greg Branson

Always happy to talk the business of design – contact me if you would like to learn more.

Design Business Council : business advice for creatives.
We help designers build better, stronger, more sustainable, businesses.

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Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.


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.

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