NewslettersJune 8th, 2021

PG #83: The future of design studios

Ernez Dhondy
Ernez Dhondy, General Manager
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I started my design career working in advertising, and it didn’t take long for me to realise that it was an industry on the decline.

Its delivery method – mass media channels such as newspapers, magazines and television – was dropping in both usage and status. Its formula of right message, right time, right segments was no longer a potent tool.

It was replaced with the more complex and nuanced concept of ‘customer experience’. Advertising needed to be responsive to this change, but it’s hard to be responsive via print ads and television commercials.

Clients took their advertising dollar to platforms like Google, Facebook, Salesforce, IBM and Oracle. Ad agencies rebranded themselves as digital agencies, consultancies or market optimisation experts to guide clients through this transition. In doing so, they didn’t necessarily secure their future, but they adapted to change, which is commendable.

The writing may be on the wall for design studios as well. We are not inoculated against change simply because we advise our clients on how to deal with it. There are some seismic shifts afoot in our industry.

In the modern age, it is hard to deliver large-scale product, service or transformation projects. It requires tonnes of planning and coordination, and an array of expertise skills (that are in short supply). Our clients have responded to this either by building internal teams or chunking projects down into separate parts for ‘agile’ delivery by different consultants.

Internal design teams develop a contextual understanding of the organisation that is only deepening, so clients with internal teams preference them over external agencies to deliver complex work. Meanwhile, clients who still rely on external agencies build large, diverse pools of consultancies to deliver piecemeal work. In the process, they have eroded the USP of full-service agencies and consultancies that pride themselves on end-to-end delivery — ultimately making it harder to win work.

Let’s not forget that design is no longer the new kid on the block. It’s been around for a while now, and organisations have had both good and bad experiences with the skill set. Design has lost its gloss and now comes with baggage. We are simply not as impressive as we once were.

We need to respond. We need to change and adapt. We need to be more flexible, dextrous and deft.

That means adapting our processes to work more closely (and collegially) with our agency partners. It means letting go of our known ways of working and becoming what our clients need us to be. It means bringing new kinds of value to our clients’ projects, becoming more than just designers.

If we cannot diversify and evolve our offering, we risk being just another flash in the pan.

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