Technology doesn’t disrupt, design does

The Australian design industry has seen substantial changes over the past five years. Changes that need to be considered and built into planning for design businesses. 

In the past six months as part of our mentoring via LunchTime Learning and the Business of Design Short Course  we’ve been talking to many design studio owners and senior staff. Along with research we do in the Business of Design short course we have thought a lot about what’s happening to Australian design studios.

We’ve reached a number of conclusions none of which are earth shattering in themselves but collectively they’re changing the design business landscape in Australia. Designers who understand these factors and use them to rethink their business will become disruptors. Here’s our six take away points:

  1. The rate of change is so fast that past successes are no longer relevant – you have to show how you will shape the future for clients. You need to set up leading indicators to help predict the future of your business.
  2. Large management consultancies (PwC, Deloitte, Boston Consulting Group etc) are buying up creative agencies of all types. They are creating new competitors to independent design firms. They are also expanding the market by creating more knowledge of design value within large corporations and positioning design as a consultancy service. This should eventually have a trickle down effect for all design businesses. In the short term we need to look at their business model and adapt it to our businesses.
  3. Inhouse creative teams now rival privately owned studios in quality, experience, and skills. There was a time when inhouse designers were seen as lesser skilled designers. This has changed as more businesses see the value that highly skilled designers can add in all areas of the business. We need to do a risk analysis on our large clients to measure the chance they will take design inhouse.
  4. It is widely accepted that technology (digital) is disrupting. This thinking focuses on the outputs rather than the outcomes. If you focus on the outcomes you will see that the four areas that cause disruption are; people, processes, systems and clients (customers). Technology just aids these areas of disruption. We need to emphasise the outcomes rather than outputs.
  5. Design has moved from the aesthetic to the empathetic level with clients wanting design based on deeper understanding of their customers. This is confounded by the demand for instant response. Rapid customer journey and empathy mapping is needed as part of the discovery process.
  6. Competition has never been more intense with studios based in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane (88% of the Australian design market) all able to compete without having to establish separate state studios. COVID showed that clients are happy to collaborate/meet on Zoom. This opens up all of Australia for every designer.

It’s encouraging that Australian businesses make relatively low use of design. We observe that many disruptive design businesses are finding new inroads into corporate areas previously devoid of design.


We need to look at each of these changes and how they will or have changed our business. Ask ourselves how quickly we are able to adapt? can we learn from other business models? are we at risk from our major clients taking design inhouse? are we empathetic? are we outputs focused? do we want to expand into other cities/states?

Greg Branson

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

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

More articles about disrupting design

  1. Prioritise performance – an article about leading and lagging indicators – here
  2. Efficiency and effectiveness with leading and lagging indicators
  3. Taking clients on the design journey.

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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