Are design consultants doing well right now?

Coming off some difficult years, it seems the consulting industry has some wind at it’s back right now. Do you find this to be true?

It depends heavily on location and years of ecperience. Those who have already made a name for themselves obviously have it far easier than anyone starting from scratch in 2005 - 2006, but it’s still no walk in the park.

The China design factor, among others, has dramatically altered the playing field for many design startups over the past decade, witness all the big name consultancies that have either scaled down or disappeared. I really wouldn’t characterize design consulting as having any “wind at it’s back” today, it’s more like there’s no wind at all and most survivors are gearing up for the big storms yet to come.

To anyone daydreaming of selling design services in America today - don’t, there are too many fish in the drying pond already.

There has never been a better time to be a design consultant. Most businesses today are struggling with what to do next. Organizationally, they are simply not set up to be innovative. Helping organizations envision their future and fulfil their ambitions is the calling for today’s design consultant.

The unnamed big name consultancies you refer to have died becasue when markets shift, the big boys with the old school mentalities usually take the hit. Yesterday’s design consultancy is tomorrow’s innovation consultancy. The early adapters are seeing this and striking now. If you daydream of selling design services in america circa 1997, you are probably correct.

The China factor will undoubtly increase, the graduates from China’s design schools is growing every year. We can assume that good designs may emerge, we cannot stop that. So we must ramp up our own strategy and expertise in what we know and what the average Chinese designer cannot.
That means becoming an expert and taping into what the end user wants in good design. In short, become expert about the end user experience and how the product fits into their life. We are free to make not just the product a good design but the experience a good one!

So…will there be growth? Growth in one kind of firm? No growth? design firms morphing into Brand firms? Innovation firms that outsource design?

EGG…don’t jump!!!

Design is always changing and if we choose not to change we will go the way of failed “old school” design business.

Opportunity is everwhere. Yes, it’s different than in the mid 90’s and yes it’s not always obvious. Finding the opportunity gap is key.

Go to China and get another styled MP3 player.

Hire a stratgic thinking design consultant and create an entertainment experiance!!!

I can only talk about my trade (footwear). I don’t think there are enough freelancers /consultants as all the ones I know are too busy (me included). I have trouble passing work on when I’m busy as no one else I know can take it on either.

As for China - I have Chinese clients and they are always the best payers. I think when you are talking fashion, they need designers who uderstand the market. So they come to us in the West. There are no footwear schools outside of Europe either, so this might be another reason.

I wonder if /when this will change…

I know of a few consulting firms in the Bay Area that have found a way to make a decent business doing relatively small-scale design and engineering work. Certainly many potential clients in Silicon Valley, SF, etc have a simple need for a clamshell over their wireless modem or other PCB-shrouded gadget, and for them an offshore factory that throws in the ID for free is fine.

But when there is a need for working collaboratively on product development, especially when a client company does not want an in-house engineering or design group, a consulting firm can service their needs perfectly. The issue is having three or four of these kinds of clients at all times. You gotta hustle.

It’s an older style of design firm focus - not delving exclusively or heavily into branding or other strategy work - but in certain areas where lots of innovation is happening on the technical end, there will always be design work. It’s not a growth model of business, and most of the time not flashy, but you can make a living and good contacts at the same time. It doesn’t need to be 100% focused on re-inventing a client’s business.

firms, generally want to do design, but then they slide into brand because they want to be characteristically different so when a client has an idea about something can almost guess which firm to pick to do the job.

but things have changed recently due to a very competetive market so instead of just brand they have also added this innovative notion of design.

the term, innovation, the way it is used actually means “we’re doing brand but our brand is more innovative because of so and so”!

therefore this innovation is actually the breakdown of brand into a little microcosm of distinctive operative experiences a client will be expecting to go through when picking a firm to work with.

that’s why when a comapny talks about innovation they’re actually talking a new product with new features, but when a firm is talking about innovation it’s the service they offer to a client.

I tend to believe that there is more than enough work for those who can handle it. There are lots of people who dream of starting their own consultancy with little experience, or a small network of people, or no potential clients. If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t know anyone, and have no clients you will fail. Those with the resourcefulness and dedication can make it work.

I think a lot of firms are struggling with how to differentiate themselves from the competition. They tend to believe that these differences can be categorized as strengths and weaknesses. Design is design is design. The hardest part of running a firm centers around selling yourself to new clients. I agree that most client companies don’t know “what to do next.” Some firms are more adept than others at steering them in the right direction. But, if you’re focused on the needs of your client, and can identify what will be regarded as success in their eyes, you’ll do fine. The challenge lies in uncovering what will make your clients happy. I haven’t found any 2 with the same end goal. (Aside from the common capitalistic credo of making money…)

I think that the flexibility of having people you can pull into the fold on specific projects has become more important in recent years. I think there’s a growing population of of selft-sufficient creative people that can be counted on as individuals and who can function efficiently as a group. The stereotypical flaky artist-types have found themselves losing jobs to business-savvy thinkers who “get it”

With all due respect, asking such a question is like asking “How are everyones’ retirement savings funds doing?”

The design consulting industry is not any one thing. If I assume you ask of Industrial Design, I would still say a question like that is almost impossible to answer using generalizations and assumed hearsay as reflected in this thread. ID firms’ core competencies can vary greatly, and the success of any ID firm depends on many factors. One major factor is what industry the firm plays in. If the industry is doing well, so, theoretically, will the firm. This is tied to how the firm markets itself, how big its contacts base is and how deep the backlog is, not to mention cold call versus return clients. Another factor is the issue of competition, on any level.

Yes, we can say blah this, China that, but do we really have a clear means to measure this on a whole except for a comprehensive survey of existing firms? Probably not.

From what I have seen over the past 3 years, I would say the wind is picking up. If you are in the right place.

Firms like the markes have had to evolve to survive. The firms that are thriving are those who have moved away from simply offering design and engineering support to offering more “fuzzy frontend” expertise. Consumer research, market anaysis, brand identiy, brand building, user interface, user experiance, and so on. These skills are still outside of the scope of work being outsourced. The CAD and engineering work is easily done in China, India, and some even in Russia.

Regardless of what some other posters might express, brand managment is one of the strongest ways to have repeat business and have the oppertunity to truely innovate a product catagory. Once a firm has started to define what the XX brand is and how that relates to each individual sku, maketing peice, instruction manual, store shelf, etc. do you think that the client would change firms unless they completly blow a program?

This is the key to success in the present market, being seen by the client(CEO level) as a buiness partner with the same goals and ambitions of promoting the XX brand and increasing market share.

Must be…I know some hiring for 2006_2008 and many small start-ups trying to get established!

Brand management, consumer research, UI, design strategy are outside the expertise of most small-medium sized consultancies. Without overhauling their staff, it is difficult for a design consultancy to partake in this kind of innovation. Sure there is the potential to “truely innovate a product category” but does that mean the “fuzzy frontend” strategy-related stuff will go all to firms that specialize in doing nothing else? Or will consultancies that wish to survive need to make stronger alliances with research oriented firms and design “think tanks”?

What we need to consider are the enviromental factors we have on our industry at this moment. CAD and engineering going to India and China. Manufacturing plants throwing “design” in for “Free”. Hundreds of small me2 startups wanting to produce a knockoff for a lower cost falling for such gimics, and big box retailers pushing for it.

Where in this model is the room for a consultancy to make a profit capable of sustaining the program efforts let alone growth or innovation within the product? Its not, and consultancies who are mearly style houses or engineering houses are feeling that pinch more so than others. Where the room for growth is is in the development of products from a more stratigic perspective. Building the company image and marketing story through the products they offer. By being seen as the promoter of the companies image the design firm moves from being seen as a “styling/3D modeling/ergonomic/prototype supplier” and is seen as a viable and nessisary process in the development cycle. (These are actual terms I have heard clients CEOs and VPs reffer to their various design firms when meeting with them.)

So yes I do feel that it is important for any startup or small firm to partner with strong/talented research, marketing, and ergonimists. This then raises many other flags; How are the relationships disclosed/not disclosed, how do you quickly provide proposals, who’s client is it in the end, how are resorces/funds split, etc. However I think the time of a design firm only offering design and initial 3D surface (non engineered) CAD is quickly fading into the past. Regardless of what country or quadrant of the world you are in.

ML and some others here …

So, essentially, what you people are announcing is the end of industrial design as we know it, right? Do you know of any other professions now having to quickly “adapt or die” like you describe?

Or is this only a sign ID’s very foundations - education and practice - were shaky from the start and we have reached expiry date?


That industry is a complete mess from my readings. And full of scared people.

wrt ID coming to an end, I was thinking about that just yesterday. If the tools that can be made reach the masses, there will certainly be a major tremor.

We of course heard the same thing in 2001 when the .com boom was the cause…

…and in 1980 when computer graphics was in its infancy…competition makes you stronger, smarter, better and yes, different…or you die sooner rather than later.

So let’s get right down to it.

In order for any business model to continue… we have to adapt. pretty simple isn’t it ?

To go as far and say id has had a shaky foundation to start with and to add “id is dieing”… well, in your mind you’ve already decided your own fate.

I believe the ID business model is shifting toward lifestyles, trends - and yes perhaps more branding.

But, the notion of innovation will be updated. As style and trends are important we need to make clients understand the value of functional improvements and a more refined interepretation of what their company is actually in need of.

To survive we must adapt - and in doing so our clients must also adjust their understanding and value of our practice.