an online conversation
about design management

Selling design value

Design business model canvas

This five hour face-to-face workshop shows studio owners and managers how to develop a design business model canvas.

The workshop is followed by mentoring sessions that help you achieve your goals.

This thinking is innovative and creative. We especially value Greg’s understanding of the design industry in Australia.
Maryann Howley - Tangelo



The Designing demand five hour face-to-face workshop shows studio owners and managers how to build a strategy from their strengths

The workshop is followed by mentoring sessions that help you achieve your goals.

Greg’s workshop offered insights into my business that led to greater strategic focus and a better understanding of client needs.

Andy Homan - Process Creative

Identify your strengths and weaknesses


This five hour face-to-face workshop shows studio owners and managers how to develop a design value proposition to sell design value.

The workshop is followed by mentoring sessions that help you achieve your goals.

Greg has a terrific understanding of running a design business and has developed a process which allows an agency to target and evolve it’s business to better meet client needs.

Mark McNamara - Echo design

Voyeurism for graphic designers.

I love peering into the window of other designer’s businesses. I love hearing their stories. About how they started, why they started and what they do.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to the recent AGDA Design Means Business seminar at the Wheeler Centre.

Five businesses, five designers and five different stories. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were quite a few similarities.

Helen Watt has owned Watts Design for over 25 years.  Helen started the studio after leaving another to have her first child, thinking it would be easier to have a balanced lifestyle owning a business as opposed to working for someone else. Within two years her husband Peter had joined, and now one of her sons works alongside them both.

Helen is the first to admit the business grew organically. When she started mentors were thin on the ground and she relied on AGDA and talking to other, more experienced designers.

Watts design has introduced procedures and processes through necessity or from a direct experience rather than planning, but the end result is a sustainable business delivering the lifestyle Helen had hoped for.

After many years working for large corporations with huge budgets the GFC impacted the studio forcing them to rethink their client base. It was the small to medium size businesses that proved to be the best clients. At the same time, Helen realised that she is not only good at marketing she enjoys it. Now, much of her work is as an marketing consultant for those businesses where she can deal directly with decision-makers.

Helen’s skills have widen from designer to producer and collaborator; managing a network of specialists such as architects, interior designers and photographers to deliver campaigns for clients.

Andy Sargent started South by Southwest with three uni buddies.

Only two of the original team were creatives, the third an account manager. Andy admitted it was difficult to justify the overhead at the beginning when there weren't many clients and therefore not much client management needed.

But this is a studio built on a long-term vision. From the beginning the aim was to run a progressive thinking business that was risk-taking without being reckless.

South by Southwest had a business plan documenting where they wanted to go and who they wanted to be, right from the beginning. To Andy, that meant growth was less intuitive, more common sense.

The studio is interested in culture and the ability to contribute culturally which led to them grasping an opportunity to be part of a joint venture in Botswana where designing for a different language and culture has challenged their thinking and led to other opportunities.

They see the studio’s future in a global, hybrid space of branding and brand architecture. They aim to maintain creativity but deliver  design via a systematic process that can be rolled out globally.

As a contrast, Quentin Brown started Canyon when he was 36 years old and his business partner 48. Both had a wealth of knowledge but they also had mortgages, children and trade practice restrictions to deal with. The restrictions could have been paralysing — they couldn’t include work in their portfolio they had done while working for other studios.

Quentin and his partner started by writing a business plan and building a brand charter for Canyon, much as they would for any other client. They recognized at their age they didn't have time for incremental growth – to stand out from the rest they needed to make a leap ahead. That became part of their brand charter.

Their solution to the trade practice restrictions was to activate their network seeking projects based on relationships rather than design.

Today Canyon identify themselves as problem solvers first and designers second.  As Quentin says ‘coming up with a range of ideas is not difficult. The difficulty is identifying the right idea’.

Laura Camilleri started Grosz Co.Lab with her partner Ben eight years ago after she completed dual design and contemporary dance degrees.

Like Canyon, Grosz Co.Lab was faced with trade restrictions and could not show their portfolio. Their solution was to use self-initiated projects to prove their skills, especially since they see the type of work they like to do as a little more complicated than the norm.

Grosz Co.Lab likes to work in collaboration with clients. They also like to choose clients by their vision, not by market or sector. The result is a diverse and varied client list.

A few years on Laura has learnt to earn their trust before challenging their ideals and thinking. As she says,
'it's easy to forget how difficult it is for clients to put their brand in designers hands’.

Laura identified making one of the most common mistakes we all make – trying to employ a clone. Because they were worried about maintaining the culture of the studio they hired like-minded and like-skilled designers. Now they understand to grow they need to hire people with complementary skill sets. More sharing of skills = more opportunity.

Nick Davis from Interbrand added a completely different take on running a sustainable business because, although he is General Manager, the business he runs is not his – Interbrand is a global agency.

He had short snippets of advice:

  • Revenue is your best friend. You can’t create a great culture without revenue. Profits set you free.
  • Pragmatism pays off. Striving for perfection all the time is exhausting. Having a strong client relationship trumps perfect projects every time.
  • There’s a leadership versus management debate. He thinks most corporations are over-managed and under-led. Leadership is about coping with change. Management is about coping with complexity. Both are important.
  •  Simple systems.  Management can be overwhelming. Build in systems to make the complex simple.
  •  Trust in people. Most designers are control freaks. Successful businesses build multi-skilled teams where each member plays a different role. Think complimentary skill sets. Delegate less, coach more.
  •  Make time. Time is a precious resource so as a manager it’s important to block out time for yourself as much as you do for others.
  • Embrace change. Everything changes so it’s important not to stand still. We all say it to clients … it’s important to do it ourselves.

Nick was a great final speaker because much of what he said summarised the previous speakers.

No studio can be sustainable without revenue and a few spoke of the difficulties of working through the GFC. Andy identified the differences between management and leadership and how this is a major challenges to running your own business. Quentin and Canyon have strength in their systems. The trust in people point was aimed at the Laura in all of us, and making time is something that Helen seems to excell at.

The one common theme of all the speakers was that owning your own studio does deliver flexibility to choose which jobs you do for money and what you do for love, but it’s a hard slog. And I would add relentless.

Is it worth it? The answer was yes, but only if you are dedicated and committed.

Carol Mackay

Carol is co-founder of Mackay Branson, a design studio currently celebrating 30 years in business.

Her expertise is in the use of design to package complex content into bite-sized chunks of information that is easy to understand and digest. She does that with clients in the corporate, cultural, government and not for profit sectors. More at