New business development

Design disruption = business growth

As part of the research for my article on the status quo approach to design I did a great deal of research into ways to disrupt design business models. Not just for design but more broadly for design clients.

In my research I came across some material from the Deloitte Center for the Edge where they talk about strategies for disruption; they call them shaping strategies.

They define shaping strategies as ‘those that mobilise global ecosystems and transform industries and markets. A shaping strategy aims to redefine the terms of competition for a market sector through a positive, galvanising message that promises benefits to vendors and clients who adopt the new terms’. Sounds very high minded but it can be boiled down for the average Australian design business.

To put these strategies into context it’s worth looking at the disruptions that have shaped the business world we live in today.

We’ve seen major technological innovations such as the steam engine, electricity, telephone, TV, the internet and now AI. These innovations resulted in powerful new infrastructures; railroads, electricity grids and telephone networks, satellite communications and server banks.

We now know that these innovations disrupted industry and commerce, but eventually they stabilised industries. This happened once businesses learned to harness the opportunities offered by these new infrastructures.

These periods of stability were long term, often decades.

But that pattern — disruption followed by stabilisation — has now been disrupted. The internet and computing have introduced a new kind of infrastructure that is rapidly evolving but never stabilising.

Businesses are racing to keep up with the evolution of infrastructure created by new technologies. Digital infrastructure such as social media gives a disproportionate impact for relatively small actions and investments. This has business owners facing increasing stress as they try to stay up with the ever-changing business landscape. They fall back to known approaches and focus on core markets and capabilities. They focus on the short term and become more reactive. This will often exacerbate the problem.

This is where the designer who understands shaping strategy can take control.

Let’s look at how it works for a design studio that wants to disrupt its competitors.

Develop a shaping strategy

The shaping view communicates a compelling view of the future structure of a market or industry and the clear upside for participants in achieving this new structure. This is where your industry knowledge comes into play. For example in the place making area we see designers morphing into agencies that have a deep understanding on the place economy (Hoyne)

The shaping platform provides standards and protocols that significantly reduce the near-term costs of participation and amplifies the rewards they can generate from their initiatives. For example take a look at Love + Money. Charl Laubscher’s Always Beta approach to web and his Toolkit are examples of how he is disrupting the standard digital branding space.

The acts and assets of a shaper help to overcome the natural skepticism that potential participants might have in times of high uncertainty by demonstrating the commitment and capability of the shaper. For example Edison Agency with their Design for Good program shows clients they have a viewpoint beyond just getting the next branding project.


If you don’t want to stick with the status quo you need to develop shaping strategies that establish your long term viewpoint in specific industries supported by shaping platforms with assets and actions that show clients you are focussed on more than selling them design outputs.

If you would like to learn more about design disruption strategies contact Greg Branson.

The Happier, Healthier Creative Business Canvas is the tool we use to help creative agencies become disruptors. If you would like to know more about this canvas contact Greg Branson.


Contact Greg Branson if you would like to learn more about becoming a design disruptor.


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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