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

The outperforming agile design business

The concept of agility has been in use in software development since 2001 when a group of software developers produced the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Since then this process has had a profound effect on the profitability and success of many software companies such as Microsoft and HP.

So what is ‘agility’ and how can it help a design business to outperform?

Agility is not just the ability to change

According to Thomas Williams, a senior executive advisor with Booz & Company.

“Agility is not just the ability to change. It’s a designed capability that enables an organisation to respond in a timely, effective, and sustainable way when changing circumstances require it. The management literature increasingly refers to this ability as a ‘dynamic capability’: the potential to sense opportunities and threats, solve problems, and change the firm’s resource base. This allows outperformers to maintain or enhance their relative advantages in ways their competitors fail to see or do not fully implement. Agility is also strategically relevant: Although agile organisations often change, they do not pursue change for change’s sake. They pursue it for the sake of competitive advantage.”

Williams refers to ‘outperformers’ and ‘thrashers’. The later swing from underperformance to over performance. This is seen a lot in the design industry as studios attempt to grow on the back of a large client in a narrow market, only to fall back when the work dries up or the client moves work to another designer. Invariably the studio has concentrated on the client and not adapted to what is happening in the bigger world, nor have they sought new business.

The design studio outperformers on the other hand have the ability to strategise in dynamic ways, accurately perceive changes in their clients’ environment, test possible responses, and implement changes in design approach, technology, operations, structures, systems, and capabilities as a whole. It is these collected abilities, not the possession of one or two of them, that demonstrates agility. Individually, these abilities may simply seem like basic practices of good studio management. However it’s sheer hard work to orchestrate all of these abilities and consistently be an outperformer.

How to become an outperforming design studio

The initial stage is to develop a dynamic approach to strategy. This means adopting a methodology to constantly review the strategic direction for the studio. Before developing this the studio owner needs to acknowledge the need for constant change. And this has to be imparted to, and accepted by, the whole studio so that it becomes a shared purpose. The review methodology also has to clarify how the studio differentiates itself from its competitors - a design value proposition

The Design business model canvas is a tool I use to constantly review the strategic direction of a studio. I’ve used this with a large number of studios where we have developed a method to rapidly assess the studio direction and make changes that responded to client needs.

The process of developing the Design business model canvas can give everyone in the studio a well-understood sense of purpose that is codified in the business model. This model spells out what the studio offers (its design value proposition), defines the clients (the client segmentation), and lays out how it delivers value in a differentiated way. This is in part defined by the understanding of competitors.

Changing client environment. Agile studios take special care to accurately sense what is going on in the client environment. Studio owners are most aware of the changes happening in the client environment. Their regular (everyday?) contact with clients allows them to sense where the client is headed and what factors are having a change on their business. This allows the studio owner to develop empathy with the client. The agile design business devises a tool to communicate that empathy to everyone in the studio. That communication goes both ways where a designer is dealing with a client and needs to communicate back to the owner. The empathy map is a tool for gathering information about a client and using it to gain a better understanding of their pains and gains. I have used this with one studio where the empathy map is referred to before each briefing session with the client. Each contact with the client is a chance to add more information to the empathy map.

Understanding the clients environment with an empathy map is only part of the process. That information needs to be interpreted. That’s where the pains and gains sections come in. Here the tool defines the major pains that the client has and then looks at what they will gain if they get rid of these pains.

Testing responses. Agile studios refine their client insights by rapidly developing concepts, testing and refining them and then testing and refining them again. They encourage innovation and tolerate a good deal of failure.

Agile studios have explicit risk management processes that quickly assess the outcomes so the plug can be pulled if the work is not meeting the client needs. This also leads to continuous learning so that the insights gained from the tests are shared across the studio. Agile studios invest significantly in learning and continuous improvement, never believing that they have developed the model for solving all client problems.

The agile studio also gets out of the building. It involves the client by developing a minimal viable design service that gives value to a client. It tests this service by taking it to the client, revising it if needed and taking it back.

Implementing change. Agile studios have developed a process that allows them to easily adopt change. This begins with the studio owner and becomes part of the culture in the studio. The acceptance of change is embedded in the business. This means the studio is always examining its model and adapting it to changes in the environment. The model has a measurement system built-in to ensure that the client is getting value while the studio revenue is also increasing.

I’ve had the opportunity to observe many design studios and their practices. The agile studios are outperformers; producing innovative design solutions, growing their market share, moving into new markets, constantly adapting the studio and improving profitability.

The Building a new business model workshop shows how to take an agile approach with your business.

If you would like more information on how this workshop can help your business please call Greg Branson 0412 762 045

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 a series of business tools to help designers manage their business better along with a series of workshops that show designers how to use these tools.