Can you manufacture creativity?

At least 90% of our hate-mail accuses us of trying to manufacture creativity. The nay-sayers are clear: processes and procedures restrict imagination and lessens innovation. They have no place in any business selling creativity.

In our defence, here are two things we know:

  1. most designers want to spend more time designing and be more profitable.

  2. manufacturing has a history of using efficiency to increase productivity.

It makes good sense to borrow from one to improve the other.

Making stuff

A design studio is not a factory, but manufacturing at its core is just ‘making stuff’.
Designers make stuff too, so it makes sense to look outside the creative industry to see what others do well/better.

So, here’s how I think designers can manufacture creativity.

Introduce process

Regardless of the size, manufacturing plants have a process. They understand it’s not efficient for one person to do everything. To work productively tasks need a process – a start, a finish, and a measure of quality.

Contrast that with design. From freelancer to micro-business to midsize studios and larger, one designer often tends a project from the start to the finish regardless of whether they are the most skilled at each part of the process.


Personal appraisal forms to work out who best suits what role (even sole-operators can profit from that knowledge)

Document a workflow to identify and isolate different tasks. It makes it easier to match tasks with skills so everyone works at optimum efficiency. It also identifies what tasks can be delegated to others at peak times.

Document policies and procedures.

Documenting policies and procedures will help win back time.

A policies and procedures manual is no longer a foolscap folder full of yellowed paper with drilled holes protected by reinforcements – they’re dynamic documents that form the backbone of a robust studio, regardless of the size.

Policy documents state your ethos, business direction, how you like to work (inhouse/remote/mix of both) and procedures to follow (like lines of approval). It should manage expectations by setting realistic and clear instructions on workload roles, task allocation and timelines, and refer to other documents like job descriptions. And it should be accessible to all employees.

Without policies and procedures your product liability insurance may be worthless.

Regulators ask an organisation’s policy is documented, activitated and enforced, infact the success of most claims is linked to employees following policies and procedures. If you can’t prove you have a system documented, the policy is void.


A policies and procedures document is a valuable container for the random thoughts you have on how you want to run your business. Payment terms? Working hours? Free pitch? Having it all written down as policy is valuable for you and any staff: I’d like to help but it’s not your decision, its company policy.

Yep, it can be time consuming to pull together at the start but is will save time in the long term  because it stops people reinventing the wheel and leads to less misunderstandings. Policy manuals form a valuable part of your onboarding process.

And it’s not about size: it’s a common misconception policies and procedures are only necessary when a studio reaches ‘maturity’, be that in size, structure or in longevity.

Studio management system

Regardless of size, every design business needs a management system, and sometimes as a studio grows, the system needs to be assessed and updated.

Studio management systems have come a long way from only documenting job numbers, estimates and pricing. They are the backbone of the studio.

A good management system improves efficiency when estimating, scheduling and planning current projects and helps cashflow by forecasting future projects. It’s a database of existing and prospective clients and suppliers and a tool to analyse trends and benchmarks.

And they’re not just about numbers, they’re wholistic, for example a project management platform like Streamtime can help monitor the health and wellbeing of your team.

So what?

If you find the term manufacturing difficult, maybe the term streamlining works better for you? Either way, improving the process of creativity increases the profitability of creative businesses. And why invent the wheel? There’s much to gain by looking outside the creative industry to see how other industries work.

Inserting a few manufacturing practices into the creative business saves time, and money and that leaves more time for designing and more funds for self-driven projects.


Want to continue the discussion? Email Carol. Want more info like this? Subscribe below. (And tell your friends 🙂

Carol Mackay

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

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.

Want more?

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About Carol

After 30+ years running a design studio, I accumulated a pretty special network of fellow designers. One thing most have in common: a need for more information about the ‘business’ side of design. Most are impatient with any task competing for time spent doing what they love – designing so they wanted more info about how to work more efficiently and effectively.

Not me. I love that intersection between design and business. I built a career working with Ombudsman schemes, the Emergency Services sector and the Courts. My special power has always been an ability to use design to translate the difficult to understand or the unpalatable message.

I now use exactly the same skills with creative business owners. I translate the indigestible into bite-sized chunks of information. I share insights, introduce tools and embed processes to help others build confidence business decision-making skills. More confidence makes it easier to grasp opportunities. More confidence makes it easier to recognise a good client from the bad.

Outside DBC I have mentored with Womentor, AGDA and most recently with The Aunties.
And I’m a proud board member of Never Not Creative. Ask me about internships 😉

Always happy to chat, I can be contacted here.


For a short while, an archive of my design work at
My current work can be viewed at and

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