Section Logo
Facebook   Twitter   LinkedIn   Email  

Page1of 2
< 1 2 >
Entrepeneurial Thinking
Redefining roles and changing modes in creative business

by Terry Lee Stone

There is always talk about the future of design, but it’s had more urgency lately with all the changes caused by the rise of social media, shifting branding landscape and the diminishing dominance of traditional advertising. Graphic design’s typical role and business model, that of a service consultancy, is being challenged by what may be our future: the idea of working within a product development model, that is, being in on the ground floor rather than simply window dressing and creating products ourselves.

Advertising and design agencies have been specialized consulting companies providing skills and expertise outside their clients’ capabilities to help them differentiate, persuade, inform and promote their businesses. Engaged on a project-by-project basis or in multi-month retainers, creative is delivered as a service to clients. This model has meant that creative companies are always working to solve client problems, while also maintaining a friendly and pleasing business relationship so that the firm can stay employed. It’s a context where you’re only as good as your last project, and your client is constantly asking, “What have you done for me lately?”

B-cycle is a next-gen bike-sharing program developed by CP+B with Trek Bicycle Corporation and Humana.

Maybe nothing. However, the service consultancy/client relationship is often at cross-purposes for great creative. Creative professionals are outside the company looking in, which is both good and bad for innovation. They must often fight against a status-quo-seeking middle-management attitude, because thinking differently is scary and involves a lot of risk-taking. This process means creators often feel like their best work never sees the light of day. They subjugate their brilliance to the reality of “go along to get along,” because at the end of the day, most creative consultancies are small businesses trying to keep the doors open and the lights on. Take this age-old issue and couple it with rapid evolution in technology—especially social networking media and the ever-expanding digital nature of all business transactions today that have changed communication, marketing and brand involvement in fundamental ways—and the stage is set for creators to question their “business as usual” model.

A tasty product cooked up by CP+B for its client Kraft Food: Macaroni & Cheese for the Grill.
It was designed in conjunction with the agency’s more traditional advertising initiatives.

Many creatives are taking advantage of new opportunities created by technology to engage with business and culture, with or without client initiatives, and taking a different role and place in the process. Some are abandoning the entire consultant stance in favor of using their experience to develop, market and sell their own products. Whether it’s from young creators motivated to use their skills and abilities to save the world through good design, or veteran creators fed up with being yanked around by clients that don't “get it,” there is a lot of momentum in the direction of product development by designers and other creators not traditionally involved in this activity. Enabled by technology advances, today there are simply lower barriers to starting a product company and prototyping, manufacturing, distributing, retailing and promoting new goods. Designers see this and are taking the leap towards this kind of business.

For clients:
• The designer is part of the product development team for the entire lifecycle and either has profit participation in the product or is paid a set fee.
• The designer works in-house as part of the product development team and draws a salary.

For self:
• The designer invents their own product around something they feel passionate about. They either own, or co-own, it and the company that makes the product. Or they retain rights to the product and license it to others to make and market.
• The designer thinks of what would be a typical deliverable for a client (e.g., a wireframe for a website) as a “product” that’s sold to a client rather than thinking of their involvement with a client as a “relationship.”


For clients:
• The designer is engaged to provide a service relationship that results in a design for a client-initiated project that typically supports the client's business efforts.

For self:
• Designers think of themselves as a client and use their skills to promote their services and expertise to others. Lee Stone
Terry Lee Stone ( is a Los Angeles-based writer, manager and creative strategist. Stone teaches the business of design at Art Center College of Design. The author of several books on design, her recent two-book series is called, Managing The Design Process (Rockport Publishers). She wrote the Business column.