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Designing a Firm, Designing a Life: SEGD Principals and Partners

Posted in Social Media and Technology, White Paper on July 19th, 2010 by Mark VanderKlipp – Be the first to comment

At the Society for Environmental Graphic Design’s (SEGD) June Conference in Washington DC, I had the opportunity to moderate a discussion with over 100 of the brightest minds in our profession. This session was targeted specifically to the leaders of design consultancies, in-house design departments and design-build firms.

Kathy Long-Holland presents the discussion topics

Kathy Long-Holland presents the discussion topics

I had invited Kathy Long Holland, a management consultant from Portland, OR to develop a “fast break” discussion with five topics relevant to today’s business leaders. She introduced them briefly to the audience, then we assigned topics to each table for further debate.

“The future is already here … it’s just not evenly distributed.”
William Gibson

Most of the people in the room are competitors. But in this open, collaborative environment, we quickly found common ground as these topics signal larger trends in society. For many of us, the conversation was as much about designing a life as it was about design firm management. I’ve collected a few key thoughts from each conversation:

Topic One: Economic Turmoil
Often event driven, business leaders have a choice: adapt to changing conditions or fail. We watch the economy closely for signs, and make sure we’re prepared to take advantage of the entrepreneurial opportunities that arise.

Designers are being pulled in two directions:

  • The idea, the concept, the “trusted advisor” consultative service
  • Commoditized design – value in production, lower prices

One positive outcome of economic turmoil is the ability to restructure, rethink assumptions. For our firms:

  • Consider virtual teaming to bring in a variety of skill sets to solve a given problem. You’ll have lower overhead, and increased opportunity to interact and learn from other disciplines.
  • Can you offer new services to an underserved market? Can you expand services to your existing clients by forging partnerships with other firms?

For our clients:

  • Consider reducing the project fee for regular payments
  • Renegotiate existing contracts to benefit your clients, providing more immediate value
  • Consider long-term system maintenance contracts for your projects (think of it as an owner’s manual).
  • Research and offer creative financing alternatives to mitigate funding-based project delays.
Members of the Principals and Partners group discuss Economic Turmoil and offer advice.

Members of the Principals and Partners group discuss Economic Turmoil and offer advice.

Topic Two: 65+
This age group owns the economic wealth, and has the means to demand more from us as designers. The challenge is to integrate intuitive interfaces and seamless content across a variety of media.

  • Design must be simplified, legible, and intuitive. Many 65+ are clamoring for technology that is less complex, but does more to suit their needs.
  • Increased demand for resort-style living, with walkable amenities such as medical facilities and businesses that cater to the elderly on site, connect them to transit.
  • Continuing education is a priority: Museums, history – a desire to reflect, learn, experience.
  • Reach out to that “audience of one” with targeted communications, especially with regard to wayfinding tools.

Topic Three: Devolution
Social Media has devolved quickly, to the point where no one believes anything anymore. For our companies and our clients, what is the integrity of the message? What does one do to protect both personal and corporate security online?

Should we be forming “anti-social networks” favoring instead a return to old-fashioned relationship building?

  • Social media is predominantly market/buyer oriented. Face to face always trumps virtual contact.
  • Even though you may “feel” in tune and connected, is social media justifiable?
  • Third-party endorsements validate Internet messages: it’s much better for a client or colleague to recommend you via LinkedIn than for you to spout how good you are on Twitter.
  • Due to technical glitches, such as incorrect messages in digital and static tools, no one believes anything anymore.
  • There is no security or privacy anymore online.

Topic Four: Throw Away
There is an inherent conflict between consumption-driven economies and ecosystem limitations. As designers, we have a responsibility, both to our clients and the environment, to design intelligent systems that inform and direct in a sustainable way.

For our firms:

  • Look at your office space requirements, staffing models. Do what you can to reduce your footprint and be more efficient.
  • Staffers working from home use less power.
  • Build sustainable products, materials into your design process, office operations.
  • Build sustainable policies into your culture: four day, 10 hour work week
  • Purchase transit passes rather than paying for parking

For our clients:

  • Creating sustainable design solutions needs to be more than just fashionable; it needs to be a mandate.
  • Use new technologies to save on travel
  • Rely on digital systems to replace unfriendly, material-heavy design outcomes: exhibits, environments
  • Be aware of your consumption, downstream effects of products that will eventually end up in landfills

What will fuel our future consumption, and at what cost to the environment? This is a design challenge, not a political one.

Mark VanderKlipp addresses peers at the Principals and Partners Luncheon

Mark VanderKlipp addresses peers at the Principals and Partners Luncheon

Topic Five: RIGHT NOW
Everyone wants information immediately. In a service business, you need to master both the message and the technology to reach your audiences clearly in an increasingly noisy world.

People create “false lives” around informational immediacy; thinking that they have to be plugged in at all times. We need to pull back and see the big picture without being distracted by information overload.

  • Work is always due “now;” step back and analyze. What’s necessary? Is the client asking for real results or do they just want information quickly?
  • Framing the project: ask “why” before asking “how.”
  • Maintaining quality in the ‘right now’ is the most challenging part. Are we working so fast that we lose sight of project objectives?
  • Know who you are, what you stand for, why you’re relevant to clients so you can respond to the “right now” in appropriate ways.
  • There will never be enough time. Carve time out of your life to build the firm you want to be in – know your brand and own it!

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