how are they built?

What is the new model for a design firm. Does it include Engineering, research, strategy, other? What part of the old model no longer applies?

The aspects of clasic design still exist…there will always be (we hope) strategy, research, design and engineering but we now even have more to draw from to make a more complete package. Just look at the ground breaking products that are hitting the market today…everything relates to someone’s lifestyle! Being able to design for the myriad of lifestyles that exist means personalization and includes interaction design as well as more emphasis on how people really use a product. It’s a bold new day…enjoy and learn!

The key is a niche…find it, excell in it, and you will thrive. Try to be everything to every one and you will fail.

I would consider fast-following IDEO in focus and capabilities, but with an efficient and decentralized structure. I would make it officeless and web-based, with emphasis on realtime global communication.

I’d build strong engineering and manufacturing alliances in Asia and focus on a core built around process, innovation, and strategy.

I would staff with analysts, ethnographers and experience designers and form relationships with global freelancers in every design specialty.

I would “focus on people,” and not “the thing.”

How do you hire your industrial design staff? What type of designers do you look for? Do you look for designers with rendering or alias experience? Or do you want both? Do you expect to keep designers on staff for more than 3-5 years or do they move on to other firms? Do you ever hire designers right out of school?

Jess asks some interesting questions in light of the previous posts. Will entry level designer’s come with the kind of skills required? Will behaviors in hiring and the kind of people hired need to chage? Will the culture of a firm change internally?

As usual cg makes stron points. However I caution the officeless approach. I do enjoy the freedom of such an effort, however once the clients start coming in and office makes them feel more secure in handing you 6 figure checks.

Most important is to build a strong reputation and brand.

As for your team, hire thinkers not sketch monkeys. This said the thinkers will need to have the ability to comunicate their thoughts, meaning they will have to have the skills to do so. Also hire for diversity of talent and life experiances, the bagage the employees drag anong could end up helping out in the long run. The most important is to find a team of individuals who function as a single unit, meaning they all respect and get along with each other. If a disput surfaces then they need to go, and right now before they can infect the team.

I knew that would be controversial, but I think this will become more common and acceptable as web tools mature. I don’t find my consultants design office to be much of an asset. I frequently schedule meetings here at the corporate office as a matter of convenience and logistics.

I would switch to consultants without an office if they had a strong “virtual office” that gave me a powerful shared project workspace for all stakeholders. There are a lot of things that you can easily do on the web that you can’t do physically, such as:

  • Auto recording/archiving all of our meetings/discussions
  • An interactive project timeline/journal that captures every email, document and meeting
  • Time-shifting decision making (email and other opt-in methods that don’t require all decision makers to be in the same meeting.)
  • Community sharing site for all documents, with discussion-threads
  • Calendar sharing, IM and other comm tools

the combo of physical and virtual meeting room is probably the best outfit because sometimes you have to show some product concepts as prototypes, or sit down and discuss different options where the people involved need to see the finish or material upclose (unless they’ve had previous experience with that particular type of material).

if you’re a good team with sufficient expertise, virtual shouldn’t be a problem imo.

the combo of physical and virtual meeting room is probably the best outfit

UFO, I think this is a first. I completly agree with that point and your reasoning.

One other reason to have some form of phyiscal space is the fact that ideation needs to be conducted in real time in an enviroment condusive for the activity. And face it, no home office or basement is truely ideal as there are too many distractions for the team. I know small firms who rent out 2 room offices from a local EDC building 200-400 a month just for the purpose of prainstorming and ideation meetings.

Personally though nothing tops the creative solutions that stem from having the ergo, design, research, marketing, and sales forces under one roof with the instant ability to call a brainstorming meeting, or quick idea bounce between key team players in the model shop. But this is for firms that are large enough to suport onstaff experts in all these areas, not simply members with experiance in multiple areas. IDEO, HLB, Fitch, Frog etc. size.

If you are focusing on 1-2 phases of the process then the virtual office is perfect. For example a friend of mine focusses on the ID/ME translation. Taking concept design and creating the initial 3D files working with his MEs to develop near production ready models. He utilizes netmeeting for all client presentations, and rents out a posh conference room downtown for face to face. Seams to work great.

But the Large clients my firm focuses on, preffer to know that we have a physical office; give them the impression of stability and availability.

It all depends on you client base, market(process) focus, and BUDGET. All I can add is that you just have to try one, if it works run with it, if not change up. You will figure out what works for your specific situation.

more and more business parks are offering flex spaces. In other words you rent a small office (or even a larger office with multiple rooms) and there are shared presentation rooms, confrence rooms etc that can be rented out at an hourly or daily fee rate. Some of these buildings are really freakin nice and givee you the flexability you need. I looked into them for my wife’s private practice.

…a virtual firm with just a couple of principles and the rest contracted out to independents seems to the way things are headed for just about any industry or service…why should we be any different.

I’ve already moved my office into a 3D virtual world. It’s primitive, but that’s to be expected at this stage. But considering most of my work now is conducted via email/phone/ftp, it’s not much more primitive and has much more future potential.

I’ve not finished connecting virtual world to Pro/E (which would let other people control my model, modify it, send it out for fabrication). Maybe in the Spring. I’m instead spending time coding a variety of support systems. Most interesting is coding user interfaces; everything from how people work with a virtual object to the backend support for everything (sending data out, parsing it and then putting it into databases for further use in other applications). All this to help me move to a different business model.

Interesting but time-consuming.

Thats what a past employer and a couple of friend of mine thought too, untill thier clients realized that the services that they offered (design and engineering) could be done for “free” by the manufactuers in China, and that they could contract with Lightspeed for netbased research (or not do it at all), QuickParts for prototypes, and so on. This happened mainly becuase they only had what I call low to lower mid-tier clients. Basically startups, and me-too cumpanies who only saw value in competing on price. These smaller company sizes allow for more time for the clients employees to manage the project on ther own, which is what you basically are in that model.

What having onstaff employees does is it shows that you have inhouse-real time comunication and instant colaboration between experts in a variety of feilds. It also removes the perception that the client might have of you marking up the cost of the outsourced services.

This model of partnering servises does show promise for starting firms, but as clients grow so should the staff and the experiance and bredth of experts. Its like a double edged sword, you need the clients to hire the ecperst in the nessisary field, but you need the experts to attract the top-tier clients spending the money for true R&D right now

Ethically would you have your vendors remain transparent and represent them as if they are your own employees, or would you openly disclose your partnered service providers? I have seen it conducted both ways, the first feels like you are lieing to the client and they feel lied to if they find out.

How would you handle direct comunications between vendors and clients, or the posibility that the vendor circomseed you on the next program?

Not trying to totally debunk the model, just asking these questions to stir more oppinions. As I do see this model as a way for smaller firms to potentially compete with the powerhouse firms, if handled in a way that truely shows benifits the client. And trust me, Price really is not the benifit. I have personally seen contracts were such “Partnered” firms came in at or much higher than IDEO, Design Continum, and Fitch.

Walter Herbst has a great quote…“free design can be the most expensive investment you will ever make”…

Is design a verb or a noun?

Virtual teams are an incredible idea for answering the complex questions around product introductions, especially if they are global launches. Getting something for free when your rollout and future poroduct strategy depend on success …well that’s another story.