an online conversation
about design management


Explaining your value-add services

A few months ago I was invited to present to a group of ten design firms that had been granted funding to rethink their business. The studio owners were at a weekend intensive program with a host of business experts.

I was asked to show how to develop a value proposition as part of a business model canvas.

The organisers asked me to present because of the design business model canvas that I wrote about in The business of design and I use in workshops and mentoring. This has evolved from the original Alex Osterwalder canvas. I’ve adapted the canvas to make it more applicable to design studios.

The value of the design business model canvas is that you can use it to model a new studio or to check the direction of an existing business; and it can be done in a few hours.

The major adaptations I made are to the three core building blocks; client segments, client relationships and the design value proposition (dvp). I consider the dvp is the key element for a design studio wanting to show that design has value. The dvp describes the value-add services you offer to a client and demonstrates them with an example. These services are often hidden in the way that designers talk and relate to their clients. The process of developing the dvp unlocks those value-adds and gives you the words to describe them to a client. I have also added a competitor section because I believe you need to look at your competitors to get your competitive advantage and your design value proposition.

Giving it all away

The problem is that many design studios have not identified their value-add services or worked out how to explain them to clients.

The key to explaining value-add services is in understanding client relationships. It’s here that you get into the brain of your client and really understand what it is that they mean when they say ‘I’ve got a new service and I need a brochure’. Back behind that there is a job they need doing, but they are not articulating it.

In our business we grappled with this for many years until we developed a system that used the design business model canvas with empathy mapping and a design value proposition tool. I have now developed a five hour workshop on Building a new business model that uses the Design business model canvas.

The combined effect of these three tools is to identify the ‘leakage’ in your design services; the areas that you are currently giving away. These tools show you how to identify and sell the value-add services you may be currently giving away. They also help you identify the potential for more work from each client.

I have covered some of this in The business of design and I take a deeper dive into it through the Selling design value workshop. The five hour workshop has already helped more than 70 design studios. In one case a studio that was asked to submit a quote for a brochure has turned the project into a complete rebrand because they used these tools to identify the real problems the client was having.

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