Multi-Discipline Design Consultants

Just wondering if anyone here has experience working at a design consultancy that combines architecture/spaces, industrial design, branding, business strategy, etc…

The longer I stay in my career the more I want to branch out into other areas of design. Firms such as come to mind when I’m thinking about this type of consultancy.

I’m curious as to how the team dynamics work and how these businesses are not only structured but how they interact with the various disciplines involved.

All the big players like Frog, IDEO, Seymour Powell and Priestmangoode work across most/all these disciplines.

I looked at them but never really saw traditional architectural work as part of their portfolios. I could have just been overlooking it though.

Ran across this article which is semi-relevant to what I’ve been thinking about. Working Out of the Box: Scott Paterson of IDEO | Features | Archinect

What you are describing sounds more like the still-vibrant field of retail environments. I’ve collaborated a little with Crack Exp. in Portland, but there are numerous others. Definitely touches on the disciplines you mentioned, and now that “retail is dead” there’s a little less pressure on profitability per sq ft (I’m guessing). This new focus on brand extension via environment leads to the temporary pop-up shop installations and other fun expressions of a company. Eight Inc. is another such studio, with the original Apple Stores in their portfolio.

I think the reason you see less of this is the core skills required are often very different. Architecture, vs interior design vs exhibit design vs installation art, product design, UX, branding, service design, etc.

You see a lot of companies who might have started in traditional ID or architecture and branched out over the years as some of their core work dried up. But other than the couple of industry giants most companies can’t maintain that diverse of a book of business to keep people across that many specialties employed.

You also see this type of business a lot where multiple offices exist in different markets and may focus on different core areas. IE a NY office might focus on ad/UX/brand work while a bay area office focuses on product or service design, etc. Most consulting groups evolve out of a couple of key clients which are often region specific. Teague probably wouldn’t be in business designing jet interiors if Boeing was located in Des Moines.

Well there are some Architectural firms out there that do some furniture and product design, but I can’t understand the concept of a Product Design consultancy doing architecture.

The firm I’m working at currently does a lot of retail work but more on the backend of the projects instead of the front end. I think you hit the nail on the head though with the experience/environment design aspect of what I was referring to with the architectural component of these consultancies.

I’ll have to expand more when I get home tonight.

When I was at frog the odd interior architecture or retail program would come in but we weren’t known enough for it to make it a practice… got to work on some Sephora flagship stores though. Retail is the likely closest thing. Some of the more star type designers get more into architecture and interior architecture like Stark and Karim Rashid, and Dror: Dror / home

Heatherwick Studio does a lot of architecture, furniture, product… but none of the droopy biz consulting… do you really want to make million dollar powerpoint that don’t go anywhere anyway? :slight_smile:

I’ll try to clarify where I’m coming from with this.

You have architecture in the traditional sense of the word. Someone who designs a building, documents it, watches it get built, etc… you have to coordinate all of the systems involved with a building, etc…

You can also do the architectural design concepts/prototypes for a business. This could be something like a major retail chain, restaurant, etc… Like Starbucks, or Chipotle. Whenever you see one of these places you know it not only by the branding and signage, but also typically the design of the building itself. (a bad example is the old steep pitched roof ihops all over the country that have been converted to other uses)

I’m wondering if there are any design consultancies out there that will help a business with all aspects of their brand. from something like a product to the branding concepts, space planning, art direction, building/space design, and even down to the various technology integrations available. basically the whole user experience when you interface with this company.

I’ll use Chipotle as an example:

Their building have a very standard kit of design features that they draw from depending on location and the landlord requirements. You can pretty much tell what it is even without their branding slapped on the building.

Once you enter the building they have a fairly standard prototype of how you interact with the interior from the way you queue, how you order, how you pay, getting drinks/condiments/etc, then how they have their seating organized. They have this flow well thought out and they apply it to every restaurant they build.

Other designed items that they use include their online/app based ordering systems. Someone had to design these and fit them into their intended use of the interior design/space planning.

Their branding is slapped on nearly everything they have and it all points towards a common theme. The graphic design, utensils/paper goods, bags, etc… All of this is designed towards a common goal.

An example of items that they don’t currently have that other places do would be kiosk based ordering systems. These could be a whole design problem for a company. you’d have the enclosure design, the interface design, and managing how this fits into their space planning and ordering process.

Obviously these would have to be team efforts to come up with all of these various designs decisions. Unless you have a finely tuned in house design group I would imagine that a lot of these areas would be available for consultants to help out.

Getting back to my original question. I’m really curious if anyone has experience working on these types of groups. Do the various features get divvied out to separate departments or do consultants have the luxury of approaching these as a total design solution for a client when all various disciplines working together.

Have you ever worked in a large corporation? I’m asking because it will help me know how far to explain why this usually doesn’t happen (if ever).

Pretty much all of my experience has been in smaller studio type settings. Basically firms of up to 45 people and usually on teams of 5 people or less. This is all within an architectural design firm settings also.

I like the question.

My experience is you have what I call top down business consultancies like Bain, BCG, McKinsey, etc. They are the ones who decides the overall business strategy and then have tactical services like branding and design. As a rule of thumb, these types of firms are doing Fortune 500 strategy/branding/design. They are the ones with a track record to lower risk for companies that will spend 9 figures on build-outs, packaging etc.

Then there are what I call bottom up design consultancies like any that have been listed in this thread. They primarily do the tactical design but then offer strategy as a secondary service. While they will have some Fortune 500 clients, the medium- and small-size companies will be their bread and butter as their risk is lower and cannot afford the big boys.

On a side-note, , is one of those bottom up consultancies. Kind of a private dream job for me. They mostly do architecture/design with one-offs or small chains but they did do Armani Exchange a while back.

Focusing on those specific examples, you usually have a combination of different consultancies and vendors - not a single stop shop.

Companies like this will usually have an internal team who oversees things like interior design guidelines, probably working with outside vendors to create the retail experience. That probably consists of lots of pages of raw plywood design guidelines, stainless steel art pieces, furniture types etc.

Each individual franchisee will then usually get that branding guidelines and have to pay an architecture firm to actually apply the guidelines to the actual design of a specific building, and those plans and designs will all need to be approved “through corporate”. You see the same thing at retail stores, car dealerships, etc. Usually when one “new design” takes over, every retail presence has a certain period of time in which to comply.

For things like the IT experience, you will usually have a VAR (Value Added Reseller) who’s job it is to assemble things like the entire set of payment kiosks, kitchen display monitors, etc. They aren’t a design consultancy in this case, but someone who packages up a bunch of existing hardware from enterprise companies to stitch together a solution for the retailer and sometimes layer some branded software on top of it.

Website/app stuff would all be owned by the corporate entity and tied into those back end systems. This is usually outsourced but I have seen some companies that have internal teams for this, and many companies leverage existing platforms (like OLO) to deploy this rather than building or designing anything from scratch. That type of work can go to any typical digital agency.

The challenge with being a one stop shop consultant is companies usually don’t like their contractors managing sub-contractors (especially on massive multi-million dollar projects). So even if you were to get in the door for providing one service, they would rather manage the contracts for services that you can’t provide end to end themselves.

Again - not to say it doesn’t happen, but most consultancies that exist in this space are multi-region power houses that can leverage skills of different studios as needed for big projects. My daily go-to consultancy has a UX team in NY, a traditional digital agency in UK, and developers in Eastern Europe rather than everyone under one roof.

Thanks for explaining Mike. Ross, Mike’s above explanation gives a lot of good examples of why this doesn’t happen. Here are some macro thoughts.

  • The design firm that could afford to have all this on staff would have tremendous overhead if they were trying to sell integrated packages of ‘all design’. There rates would be astronomical as they would have benched teams waiting for strategy work to wrap, or waiting for the next big sale. The only clients that could likely afford them would be fortune 50 type companies, who tend to not be the most design centric. Getting to my next point:

  • The companies that could afford such an ‘all in’ service tend to be large… which also means old, established. They will already have buildings, products, packaging, retail. The likely hood of them wanting to do all of this at the same time is zero because the cost would be astronomical. They likely would do a project at a time: branding, retail, product. Those projects are run by different groups, sometimes in different locations with different personalities and needs. They are not going to want to be locked into one firm. Getting to my next point:

  • If a company could afford to all of that, and they were going to lock themselves into one firm, it would make more financial and logistical sense to in-source the entire operation, which is what I have recommended to clients when their design buy has gotten large enough. Once you are spending that much money, you might as well bring it in house. The only real companies that could use this type of resources would be a start up with no history, doing everything for the first time… but they don’t have the cash to support that design buy, even well funded ones. What you described is millions in billables.

In my view, there are three reasons I can think of to hire outside design:

1- you have no in-house team. This is likely a short run as once they hit a certain dollar amount they will in-house.

2- the in house team is resource constrained and they need an effective extension of their team. These projects tend to be straight forward, have well contained briefs, and defined features/design languages to operate in. Typically of medium duration but of limited value as soon as internal resources free up or they expand the in-house team.

3- the company and/or in house team wants a fresh look on a project, category, way of doing business or they are faced with a new challenge in technology, competitive set, other marketplace factors, or just wants to leapfrog their current position. This is where I try to focus my practice. It is a short burst of high value contribution.

I realize that all that may read as discouraging. It is a good core idea that is optimistic and would be an ideal. Have you looked much into Kalidescope?

Funny you bring up K-scope. They are one of the groups I was mentioning as an example of a multi-purpose design firm that has grown from ID, shifted, and evolved offices based on client relationships. Their NY office grew substantially (and eventually moved on) out of a business relationship with my old team at Symbol/Motorola. But like yo cautions, over time we realized it was easier to bring those designers on board full time then it was to keep using them on the outside.

Thank you for these in-depth answers. From the sounds of it, projects and company organization are very similar to how the architecture world works. You’ll have the various consultants and engineers you bring on board for a specific need since it’s too costly to have them in-house 95% of the time. This all makes sense from the business aspect of it.

One of the things I have loved about my career so far is when I’ve had the chance to sit down with the end users of a space and discuss their needs and how I can help them achieve a viable solution that fits within budgets.

A few years back I designed a small rural community healthcare clinic that I had the chance to dig into how the staff would actively use the spaces from more of a research/observation standpoint. By actively participating in their processes I was able to design solutions that worked with their established methodology and also provide guidance on how they could become more efficient based on the proposed design solutions. It was a pretty cool project that I am proud to have in my portfolio. A year out from when they opened the building they were still extremely satisfied with the results and had seen numerous positive changes the productivity and wellbeing of their staff, patient satisfaction, business operations and in general brought a sense of newness to the community.

Unfortunately, those types of projects are few and far between. Project cycles are too long (18-24 months+). Budgets get slashed over and over to the point where any sort of design features gets eliminated and you are left with something that any run of the mill general contractor could go build with a napkin sketch.

Everyone has pointed out some great examples of various companies to research. A lot of theirs stories are quiet informative and fun to read about.

Don’t worry Yo, none of this is discouraging. These are just some honest questions I’ve had regarding the other side of the design world than I currently work in. :slight_smile:

Ross, check out Brightspot Strategy. Based on your last description it sounds like they are very much in the wheelhouse of what you’re interested in, looking at the organization, workflow and service design of office and public spaces from a design thinking approach.

Mike, They seem like a pretty interesting company. Thank you for pointing them out. They definitely have some intriguing projects under their belt.

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