an online conversation
about design management

Develop a winning position for your studio

A position is a simple, credible story that can be summarized in one or two key words. It forms the basis of your design value proposition. It’s about owning a big idea in your marketplace. The most successful and best recognised companies have strong business positioning. Volvo owning 'safety' and Nike owning 'performance' illustrate this idea.

To gain this position you need to develop a deep understanding of your clients and your competitors. This begins with a gap analysis where you ask: ‘What do I know about my clients?’

The answer to this will help you pick one important attribute that will differentiate your studio from your competitors.

The next stage is to develop a strategy that will communicate this to your existing and new clients.

Here’s some of the strategies you could use.

Find a niche

What design niche is missing in your market? Can your studio fill a specific need? For example, if you have been designing annual reports and you have seen them decrease, you could specialise in stakeholder communications. You could divide this into internal and external communications and show how design effectively helps impart knowledge to these groups. By finding a niche you reduce the number of competitors and you can more easily identify and communicate with clients.

Become an expert

Now that you have a niche, separate yourself from your competitors by becoming the local expert in that niche – you can’t be beaten if you are known as the local expert. The more knowledgeable and passionate you are about effective use of design in your niche, the more people will trust your information and services.

Provide what others can’t or won’t

This does not mean you become a cut price service or you ‘package’ up your services. By examining your competitors you can define what they offer and hence what extra service you can offer. Maybe their prices are low, but their poor service and long wait times are unacceptable. The key is to find out the source of this dissatisfaction and deliver an alternative.

Don’t compete on price

Instead of involving your studio in a pricing war, separate yourself in these ways:

Expert advice (establish yourself as an expert and share your knowledge)

Intimate relationships (understand your clients and find reasons to always deal face-to-face)

Unique experiences (offer something different such a co-creation workshops)

Emotional attachments (understand what’s important to them so your clients will want to return)


The future will belong to small, adaptive, innovative studios that use their creative abilities to make themselves memorable and impress their clients. Understand your clients’ market and show them how to adapt as the market shifts. Offer them services (customer journey mapping) that help them understand their customers’ state of mind (empathy mapping).

Help clients experience design

This is more than just going beyond expectations when it comes to service. It is giving clients the chance to ‘own’ the design by getting them involved. A Melbourne digital agency moved their production team into the clients’ office during the development of a new website. This is helping clients experience design.

Follow trends and study demographics

Every studio wanting to redefine its position should spend time understanding client demographics. Is the management average age trending down? How do you cope with younger, less knowledgeable managers? Future trends in your clients’ business technology, delivery systems, marketing, works practices are all areas that should be studied to stay in front of your competitors.

If you have chosen a niche marketing approach you will be able to manage all of these strategies because you have a select well identified group of clients.

If you want help in developing a niche marketing approach, the Designing demand for your studio workshop gives you the tools and guidance that will get you new business.

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.