i don’t believe design consultancies developed the way they intended to in the 90’s. there are many reasons why that happened.
1- some became struggles between the founder/s and co workers trying to prove themselves as lead designers for projects and so on. this was because design consulting compared to other fields like architecture was a totally new experience.
usually if they were a small group they either managed to stay in business, broke up and started another gig, moved to other firms/companies, or dismantled each going to work for corps or individual firms.
but most suffered the set backs that comes with doing design.
2- in mid 90’s with the internet, computer software, and wireless, a whole new era began. those who experienced it know how confusing it was for people trying to figure out directions. still today there’re some people who don’t know the future of industry as far as IT is concerned. this also has made consulting business a sort of a free for all. one day you’re a freelancer, the next consulter, then freelancer again and all these other job descriptions! even right now if you look at how many different job titles there’re for design you kinda wonder what is a designer in the first place? and i don’t believ the specialisations in this field are as authentic as let’s say in engineering where you get a degree for that specific area of expertise (ie elec. eng, civil eng, ME, …)
3- firms had to adjust with the way they did business when everyone went global. they started making more offices, expand OEMs/vendor relation, chinese manufacturing,etc around the world and this created a huge difference in the way design was done previously, which was mostly at the concept level.
they gradually started to blend in ideas and keeping it focused on the brand idea and configured a consulting system that can put everything into the same recognizable box of goods and services and still be flexible.
however it was not as lucrative and dramatic as a real business. very toy like. still is imo.
4-consulting never crossed the finish line for most part. it’s like one of those nightmares athletes have. you’re in the olympics, there’re all these teams running for the gold medal but even when you win a medal and break a speed record there’s always this next tough challenge that might make or break your business.
someone might say it’s like that in corps and other areas too! i disagree. when a corporation screws up they fire the CEO and find another guy. he comes and fires employees, creates a new balance sheet and the company is a company again, although they might not even be there. it’s like a model getting plastic surgeory in her 20’s after a bad photo session and being on covers again because she fixed the eyebrow and got the right contact lenses!
with consulting they have to sit there and hope the clock runs their direction. forget the cover, the medal, whatever, infact forget about design as you know it - find some other thriller no one else is doing.
that’s why consulting is like movie making without the hollywood back-up.
5- this brings up the last point. consultancies have come to the conclusion that change is the only thing that keeps their business growing and interesting as apposed to a rigid understanding of design and having a business model which alternatively fosters this phenomenon is very helpful.
they are indeed vulnerable to stability in an ironic way.
so where does this leave designers.
i don’t really know because i can only speak for myself. but when a designers decides to work in a consulting environment must also accept the fact that consulting business although seems like a pretty wide open highway it’s actually a very narrow hallway.