We research to help designers manage their business better

Over thirty years ago we founded Mackay Branson design, a ‘traditional’ design studio with one client, one chair and a pasteboard. We’ve walked the talk.

We managed to build a sustainable, profitable design studio by continually reinventing who we were and what we did. We did it by researching better ways to work but it was hard to find the time to work on our business when we were knee deep in short-term client demands.

Since founding Design Business Council, research has been a core activity. We now have the luxury of time to gather, analyse and share information we think valuable to other Australian creatives.


The Design Maturity Report

What is a mature business?

Business maturity modelling comes from the U.S. Defence Department. It was used to assess the capability of businesses supplying to the U.S. Government. The maturity model describes how well the behaviours, practices and processes of an organisation can reliably and sustainably produce products or services.

Design maturity describes the design practices and processes of an organisation to reliably and sustainably produce products or services.

A number of global research projects looked at design maturity, but until now it’s not often been researched in Australia.

Measuring design maturity in Australian businesses

In 2019 we published the DBC Design Maturity Report based on research into the link between the mature use of design and the success of Australian private companies.

The research has two components:

  1. a value chain based on the Michael E Porter Value Chain model
  2. a design ladder developed by the Danish Design Centre.

The design value chain

A value chain is a set of activities that a business implements to create value for its customers. Porter proposed a general-purpose value chain that companies can use to examine all of their activities, and see how they’re connected. The way value chain activities are performed determines costs; affects profits, and helps understand the sources of value in a business.

Rather than looking at departments or accounting cost centres, Porter’s Value Chain focuses on systems, and how inputs (raw materials) are changed into the outputs (products) purchased by consumers. Using this viewpoint, Porter described a chain of nine activities common to all businesses, and he divided them into primary and support activities.

The DBC has adapted this model to look at how design adds value for a business. We’ve added Research, Design and Development to develop a distinct DBC Design Value Chain (shown below).

The Design Ladder

After defining the design practices and processes, the next stage is to rank them according to their design maturity — that’s where we introduced the Design Ladder.

The ladder is a diagnostic tool used to measure design maturity by:

  1. understanding the total use of design in a business
  2. creating a common language for strategic design use and
  3. aligning design investment with business strategy.

The higher a company was ranked on the Design Ladder, the greater strategic importance they attributed to design. The Design Business Council adapted the original concept by adding a fifth step to the ladder.

The Design Business Council Design Maturity Report

Ten Australian design leaders were invited to participate in the research alongside one of their key clients.

The Design Business Council conducted an inhouse workshop with the design studio owner and their team, outlining the aim of the research and the value to the Australian design industry.

An executive summary was provided to design studio owners to share with their client. The summary explained the research methodology, time commitment and value expectations.

The Design Maturity research was conducted in face-to-face meetings; firstly with the design studio owners, and then with clients. Often further research within the organisation was needed to complete the information.

The Design Business Council has converted the research into a workshop that helps designer measure their clients’ design maturity and turn that into new business development. For more information on this email Greg Branson or phone 0412 762 045.

What participants said

“A truly fascinating piece of work. Breaking the impacts of design into various functions of the selected businesses – e.g logistics – as opposed to taking a macro view on whether a company does or doesn’t design well, was very creative and insightful. As are the recommendations you provide for how to better incorporate design into each of those business functions.”

“This approach aligns extremely well with the way our business is run. Great to see the opportunities for design.”

“As a start-up we have taken a design centric approach so it was good to get validation and see where else we can add design.”

“Please don’t release this to our peers. We want the chance to implement it with all our clients before our peers get to it :).”


A COVID19 snapshot of the Australian design industry

We’re not sure what comes after ‘now’ but we’re absolutely sure the more knowledge we have about ‘now’ the better prepared we will be for ‘next’.

And we’re sure research will lead to knowledge. Knowledge will bring clarity. Clarity will help us all make better decisions faster.

To find out more, we collaborated with Streamtime and Never Not Creative to run a short, sharp survey to capture the ‘now’ feeling of Australian creative business owners. What’s working, what’s not.

This research is yours. Our aim is to share – as much as possible – the ways that we are all trying to survive during this time. From proactive, creative strategies to incisive pragmatic decision making. The more we can share, the more we can hopefully get through this together.

It is well worth a read. Download it here.


Want to know more?

The Design Maturity Report is a major study into the use of design in Australian businesses.
If you would like to discuss how it can help you gain more business from clients email Greg Branson or better still, call 0412 762 045.