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

When changes, iterations and amendments are a good thing.

For most of my career, client changes have been viewed as a necessary evil. Even when clients promise the handover file has been approved, most designers view zero alterations as an unrealistic expectation.

It’s only the past few years that I’ve embraced change into my design process, and it’s been with great results, but a recent presentation made me realise I could do much better.

How I work now

My estimates have always included an authors correction ‘allowance’ as a line item. Because I have been dealing with most of my clients for a long time, the amount is usually based on a previous project. For new clients I use a percentage of the total budget. It means I don’t perceive feedback as a hindrance that bites into my budget – it’s expected, invited and incorporated into the design process.

Additionally, I often present layouts or scribbles for discussion, rather than final designs. I think it actually saves time. It gives the client a chance to reconsider their objectives, and often the brief will shift slightly as a result of those discussions. It also gives me an opportunity to refine the estimate of costs.

The catalyst that led to me rethinking how I could incorporate change was a presentation titled Co-Design and Production I recently attended.

The session included lessons and learnings from a partnership between Simon Goodrich, Managing Director of Portable Studios, and Kerry Walker, CEO of the Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC). It was about agile thinking, aspirational outcomes and how iterations can be an effective way to refine a project.

About Portable

Portable is a truly inspiring company. You can read more about them here.

About NJC

Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC) is the only community justice centre in Australia and was originally set up as a pilot program. They are independent and charged to influence the modernisation of the court system (programs and labour).

NJC believe that the community (rather than the court) should be the centre of the systems and processes. They were doing user-centered before they knew what user-centered was. They never work alone — they always work in partnerships.

In May 2013 Kerry met Simon when he submitted to redesign NJC’s website (which never happened). They got on well, so while the website submission was being evaluated by others (which took two years) they brainstormed other avenues they could work together.

Family Violence was identified as one area – Police Commissioner at that time, Kevin Lay, identified it as a coming tsunami and they knew the registrars in the courts were already busy and would need help if the number of cases increased.

First case study – Family Violence Intervention Order

To get help, women at risk from a family violence situation had to complete a form at the Magistrates' Court of Victoria. The 18-page form was so complicated it could only be completed with the help of a registrar. As part of the activity, the registrar had to make a risk assessment of the client. Registrars then keyed the information into a program called Courtlink, printed it and put it into an envelope to give to the Magistrate. Magistrates never saw the women and made their judgement based on the registrars risk assessment.

Portable and NJC’s object was to make the form easier for women by:

  • building the form online
  • reducing the content from 18 to 11 pages
  • moving it to a secure environment
  • restructuring the emotional logic and
  • introducing a risk-flagging tool.

This project is only just being finalised two years later. Both parties persisted but could have easily walked away from the project – especially when it stalled for 8 months.

Key lessons learnt:

  • Portable recognised that the project was never scoped properly. It was started in a hurry to try to kick goals before funding decisions were made.
  • Work was done that sucked time and resources from the project but in the end was not needed. The work was in reaction to those higher up the food chain but was actually out of scope.
  • Again, because of pressure from those in authority, the project was over-engineered to try to reduce risk. Managing this procurement process ate up the budget.
  • The timespan of the project created it’s own difficulties. Staff turnover meant rework on both sides. Additionally, during the time, NJC moved from being part of one government department to another, making it difficult to find the right decision makers
  • The contract was based on milestones that couldn’t be reached because of things outside Portable’s control. This led to difficulties with cash flow. Portable estimate that they funded around 60% of the project just to get it finalised.

The second case study: Courtablilty

The impetus for this project was Kerry’s frustration at the queues and inefficiencies at NJC. She had an epiphany after a visit to Apple to get her iPhone fixed. She liked the triage – being greeted by someone who assessed the problem and knew who could help and how long that would take. In a court the only two people that know what’s happening are the Magistrate and the Bench Clerk.

NJC and Portable thought they could bring Apple’s agile-thinking into the court system and applied for a grant to design a court triage service called Courtable.

Portable knew the digital needs. NJC knew the court system.

The first thing they did was contact an economist who predicted Courtable would deliver a 20% saving in time which was an anticipated net productivity gain of $3.782 million per courtroom per year.

Still, even with those facts and a track record it took 4 months for the submission to be signed off by a Minister. (NJC are in the business of law. Law has a lot of people to protect and defend so it moves slowly. That said, they didn’t realise how slowly.)

Kerry and Simon took what they had learnt from the previous project and built the process using agile design. They ensured it was scoped thoroughly before they started and were comfortable that the end result may not be the same as the earlier premise.

They explored different ways to approach the problem. When one proved flawed they pivoted and explored an alternative until they found a solution worthy of prototyping.

Comparing projects

The FVIO project took 4 months to prototype, 22 months to implement.
Courtable took 9 months to prototype, 5 months to implement.

They hacked bureaucracy. (This is based on a quote from Todd Park, an IT entrepreneur: ‘We need both kinds: people who can hack the technology, as well as people who can hack the bureaucracy.’)

Key takeaways Kerry and Simon offered

  1. Assemble the right team. Identify blockers. Agile is in the doing.
  2. Don’t over-engineer the process. Writing multiple business cases does not reduce the risk.
  3. Embrace changing requirements because they’re part of the iterative process.
  4. Work around legacy systems. Waiting for them to change will stop your project.
  5. Commit to a prototype and nothing more. Don’t make the project more complex than it needs to be and don’t commit to the future.
  6. Ensure you have a mutual understanding of the goal. Need to stay focused and not get caught up in detail.
  7. Have a good sponsor — don’t be afraid of getting funding to a certain level, proving the concept and on that evidence get more funding to get to the next stage.
  8. Have a good relationship outside the contract because it allows for true collaboration (compared to a client supplier relationship).

What this means for me

This presentation cemented my resolve to not get pushed into developing a design solution when I’m not yet sure of the problem.

I’ve always been comfortable to work with a client to co-create a solution, now I’m getting better at anticipating the steps that might take and incorporating that time into the budget.


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