Consultancies and Competitors

Hey guys, I’m trying to learn more about the industry and had a question about how the established design consultancies operate when they are approached by clients. Say they delivered concept work with a blender company A and then were approached later by blender company B to do concept work. Do they automatically turn this work down because working with blender company B would compete with their client blender company A?

My guess is yes they would turn down the work, since it would appear to me to be a conflict of interest. Would this mean that each consultancy would work with only one tv company, one toaster company, one coffee maker company, etc? I’d imagine this is a common occurrence with all design consultancies, but having never worked for one, I wanted to see what others thought.

It depends on the contracts. Usually when a company asked us to add a non compete clause the price went up.

I’ve worked at consultancies where this is done. The team on Project A would never include members of the team on Project B. Anything to do with each project was kept in a separate room that the other team didn’t access.

It was never a problem at any of the places I’ve seen it in practice. The two teams always respected each others project privacy. Commonly called a Chinese Wall.

Definitely experienced that as well, to an extreme level their might be a separate location, or a code locked room. Ad agencies do this all the time. I had a friend that worked at an agency that did both Apple and Samsung work. Each team had it’s own area of the office with key coded doors.

Your wording is quite specific here. In this scenario a breach of professional ethics would only be called into question if Project A and Project B were going on simultaneously inside the firm. The above examples illustrate an attempt to separate project activity in side the firm, however a judge and the attorneys could easily find fault in such a case as presented. It is quite common for a firm who is known for a certain particular kind of design work (i.e housewares) to wrestle with this kind of ethical dilemma on an on going basis.

I’ve witnessed both strict adherence to this kind of conflict of interest scenario, as well as interns making shrouds out of paper to hide the competitors product in the studio when the "other"client is there for a visit. One of the realities in many design studios is that the showroom/project wall is open and is used to show who and what kind of projects the firm has worked on in the past. This usually serves as positive when a new “blender” client sees that you have done work for another blender client in the past.

Consumer electronics, footwear and automotive are among the most sensitive and dubious in this area of professional ethics. The lawsuits that name firms and designers as defendants can be quite large.

Thanks for all the replies and insights, I really appreciate you all sharing your experiences with this! All of that totally makes sense.

I can see how there is a lot of grey area around the products of certain industries. I guess if company A and company B were getting blenders designed that had a different target markets, maybe a smaller health and sport on the go blender vs. a powerful snow cone/tropical drinks blender there would be less of a grey area within ethical conflict. Please correct me if I’m wrong but, I guess what it comes down to is, are you designing two products that compete for the same customer 's business, and if so there is conflict.

Hello from Puerto Rico I’m a fourth year business student and I think that the important thing is that you don’t end up creating a conflict between the two teams and take extra caution when dealing with both. We are all supposed to be professionals but its important to know we have different tendency’s when dealing with things like this so keep an eye out for any emerging problems.