This is an excerpt from from my new book, Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers, out now from HOW Books.
Culture is everything people in a design business do that supports the process of making work happen. Culture can create joy for designers, while improvements in process can facilitate profit. A common misperception is that culture emerges organically based on the decisions of a business owner or CEO. But a design studio’s culture is not created solely by those at the top. For a design-led business, culture is generated from ongoing contributions and discoveries from both studio owners and employees.
In researching my recent book on how design businesses can be more successful, I began to see important building blocks that were present in the most successful studios. These building blocks are divided into two groups: hard building blocks and soft building blocks. Hard building blocks are realized through a budget, meaning that you can allocate money and time for them as part of business overhead. The soft building blocks can be created through the decisions employees make over the course of their daily work, life and play (with less material investment by the owners).
A healthy studio culture draws equally from both types of building blocks. They provide emotional and material stability to employees in the face of ongoing work challenges, and often clients, family and the general public perceive them as ingredients of the company’s brand. These building blocks are equally present within design firms and in-house design teams—though for the latter, the composition of some building blocks may be heavily influenced by the company's overall behavior and needs.
Let’s take a deep dive into these building blocks, with important questions to ask yourself (and your team) in order to create a strong studio culture.
Blog DONG XI
Mobile connectivity is creating and enabling new approaches to markets which have traditionally been hard to crack. For emerging economies, connectivity can improve everyday life for the poorest if companies find a sustainable model for reaching new consumers and understand the complex canvas of emerging markets.
Visa, a payments company, recently partnered with frog to complete a three-month long project in Rwanda to uncover how technology can advance financial inclusion. Teams immersed themselves fully into their local Rwandan surroundings, living alongside the people who would ultimately benefit from financial inclusion to understand their everyday lives more completely.
Join Visa and frog at Singapore's historic Arts House on the evening of May 7, where we will present details of this design research activity plus an innovative model for understanding consumers and building market share in the developing world and beyond.
Blog The Editor's Notebook
Patrick Whitney is dean of Chicago’s Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology a graduate school focusing on researching and teaching design methods. He is a luminary in the ever-growing field of design strategy. His work focuses on design’s role in transforming not only products and services, but also companies and markets. And he is researching how companies and designers can better manage design strategy with effective methodologies. I recently spoke with Patrick as he was gearing up for the annual IIT Institute of Design Strategy Conference, which will take place from May 14-15 in Chicago. He shared not only some sneak peeks at the line up, but also his wise and witty observations on how design and business can improve how they intersect.
RJ: "Reframing" seems to be a theme at the conference and also in the innovation landscape in general. Why is this concept so important when looking at design as an innovation strategy?
Patrick Whitney: The conference is a strategy conference. We think of strategy in the context of Roger Martin’s term -- deciding where to play and how to win. For the last 30 years, companies focused on Six Sigma, total quality management, and other efficiency programs. It was clear they could make profits and grow financially by doing a better job at what they already knew how to do. Now that companies have succeeded at decreasing costs, they see innovation as the path to profits.
This is an exclusive excerpt from my new book, Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers, which was recently released by HOW.
As I read through his resume, the designer stared at me expectantly. He had a wealth of great design projects under his belt. He had been seeking out personal projects to build out his portfolio. He had internships with sterling businesses and design studios. But there was one thing that leapt out at me from the list of core skills he’d listed at the top of his resume: strategy.
Not brand strategy, content strategy, interactive strategy, media strategy, or the MBA-land of business strategy. Just plain ‘ol strategy.
This has been happening more and more frequently, for a few reasons. In the process of providing strong service to our clients, we increase the likelihood of becoming a strategic partner. We finally have a seat at the table when the client is talking strategy—and we can offer a range of strategic services that verge outside what may be considered a designer’s core area of expertise. This is a good thing. With the ongoing expansion of design’s role in business, today’s designers are helping to solve problems that transcend mere decoration and instead impact the core functions of a client’s business.
But in our haste to be strategic partners, I’ve discovered that many designers don’t fully grasp how strategic services fit into their client offerings. And when I ask designers out of sheer curiosity how they’re functioning as strategists—what experiences they directly bring to bear on being strategists rather than having a strategic orientation—they can’t easily answer the question.
If you’re going to run a design-led business, it’s inevitable that you will need to talk strategy with your clients. So let’s explore the types of strategies you might create as a design businessperson, as well as how they may support the efforts of your clients. It’s my hope that this information will open up some new paths for you to explore in your career as a designer.
“What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power,” novelist Michael Ondaatje writes in The Cat’s Table, and it was a strange coincidence that I came across this enigmatic line on the descent down from Davos, the Swiss ski resort that had just convened some of the world’s most powerful men and women for the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum.
The paradox of Davos is that it is both highly public and highly secretive. Relationships and business transactions are on show, as much as they are taking place in back room meetings and private encounters on the peripheries, far away from the glitz and glamour and where the buzzing doesn’t need buzzwords. Davos is the great equalizer and the great divider at the same time. The hierarchies are both formal and explicit (manifest by the color of your badge), as well as situational and subtle, with small smart mobs forming around the most sought-after, both on- and offsite (“one minute you’re in, the next you’re out”), in emotional roller coaster, funicular, and shuttle rides between recognition and rejection, belonging and alienation.
The SCAD graduate students split up into teams and gathered around their copies of the Collective Action Toolkit (CAT), considering their homework assignment for their next class period. Their task: To pilot the first activity they would use with local high school students as their first introduction to working together in a group. In two days, they’d have to do a dry run with their classmates. As they looked over the toolkit’s action map, they began to where they should they begin? By having a “Knowledge Fest” or a “Skill Share?” By helping their group identify a goal right away, or by having fun and getting to know each other?
The CAT has been out for almost two months, and from the emails and conversations we’ve received since releasing the CAT, situations such as the above are happening more and more. The toolkit is being deployed far more broadly than expected, such as in our new Chinese language edition. People are finding new uses for it, from local education to entrepreneurship in global organizations. And we’ve embarked on our first educational pilot, working with SCAD’s Design for Sustainability program.
How did this happen? And in what ways can you use the CAT that you may not have considered?
This past September, I spoke at AIGA Seattle's Into the Woods, a multidisciplinary retreat whose theme was "Survive and Thrive." Five speakers were asked to speak on that theme through the particular lens of their practice, on topics as varied as sustainability (Scott Boylston) to inspiration (Jeanette Abbink) to creativity (Howard Lichter) to business (Seth Johnson and Karen Kurycki). The topic I was asked to speak on was design and education.
Andy Warhol knew it all along: “Good business is the best art.” And lately, a number of business thinkers and leaders have begun to embrace the arts, not as an escapist notion, a parallel world after office hours, or a creative asset, but as an integral part of the human enterprise that ought to be woven into the fabric of every business—from the management team to operations to customer service.
John Maeda, the president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and author of the book Redesigning Leadership, predicts that artists will emerge as the new business leaders and cites RISD graduates Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, co-founders of Airbnb, as prominent examples. The author William Deresiewicz heralds reading as the most important task of any leader. John Coleman makes a compelling case for the role of poetry in business. Intel named pop musician will.i.am as director of creative innovation. And the World Economic Forum has been inviting arts and cultural leaders to its events for several years and this year added the ‘Role of the Arts’ to its Network of Global Agenda Councils.
Indeed, the “art” of business becomes ever more important as the “science” gets ever more ubiquitous. Against the backdrop of our hyper-connected economies and as Big Data and sophisticated analytical tools allow us to maximize process efficiencies and standardize best innovation practices worldwide, intuition and creativity remain as the only differentiating factors that enable truly game-changing innovations. Like any “soft asset,” they cannot be exploited, only explored. And like artists, innovators must develop a mindset and cultivate creative habits in order to see the world afresh and create something new.
Blog The Editor's Notebook
Two months after the New York City region was hit by Superstorm Sandy, the devastating scope of its damage is becoming even clearer. Consolidated Edison, for example, recently estimated that the cost to repair its electric grid in the New York area will reach $450 million. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, power was lost at many homes and businesses, affecting millions of people. This meant no heat, no way to store food safely, and no way to charge mobile phones for basic emergency communication. As of today, many residences, offices, and stores are still reeling from business lost and lives upturned by losing electricity. Hearing these stories (and because many of us at frog experienced power loss ourselves at home and at work), we wondered what simple-to-use emergency power-generating solutions could prove effective as a disaster relief tools.
Blog The Editor's Notebook
Last year, frog compiled its first-ever set of technology trend predictions for the year to come. Because it’s the end of 2012 (and because we are also launching our second annual edition of frog’s Tech Trends for 2013), we thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to see how we fared, in terms of foreseeing the near future.