Proactive Design Firms?

I was wondering if there were any examples of proactive design firms. What I mean by this is the idea that I am beginning to view Design Consultancies as having enormous potential energy for being proactive in product/company development.

Basically, what I see happening is that Design Firms tend to start by hanging a plaque outside the door advertising that they can design a product for someone else. Someone else, then walks through the door and pays the designer(s) to create a product for them. The someone else, then walks out the door and makes money from the designer(s) capabilities.

I’ve seen examples of companies like fuseproject who have formed partnernships with clients (Aliph) and have become their design team. This exchange of equity (sweat for company shares or royalties) makes sense. But it is still, a glorified version of a consultancy. It is working for someone else to create significant gain for them.

I’ve seen Astro go out on their own and start producing gaming headphones. So, they’re probably the closest to what I am trying to find. But really what I am trying to find is a firm/company/group that is acting more like an incubator. Using their skills to invest, build, and promote their “clients”.

Does this exist?

For a minute there I imagined a bunch of pimple faced designers using Proactiv. :smiley:

I can think of a couple that have popped up over the years (surely more, this is just what I remember)

Pentegram Fuego grill

Frog Design’s Postcard iphone app

RKS fast lane grill project

Thanks Travisimo…I remember the RKS BBQ. As I recall, that one was out of a student workshop put on by RKS and is probably the best example of the three of what I am looking for. I will have to look into the Pentagram grill a bit more. But the RKS shows the support of the someone else’s original idea in an entrepreneurial manner that I am curious about.

IIRC, I think Frog marketed their own stereo about 20 years ago. It didn’t do well.

think/thing in Chicago was something like for you what seem to be looking. They were a group of designers/architects/engineers/scientists that would find emerging technologies, research them, improve them, make them marketable and then sell the rights to produce them. They would retain the intellectual property and move onto the next technology.

This was their mission statement.
“Our focus is on design and emerging technology with the goal of fostering more intuitive and more elegant user interaction with the hardware and software of our lives.”

They worked on this nifty looking car seat:

and this hearing aid system: OSPA: high-fidelity hearing aid design from think/thing

It does not look like either of them ended up on the market though. I believe that they ran out of support when the economy ran out of support. They relaunched in 2009 as a design and development consultancy, under the name thinkmore. Here is they current site: If you look through their website, you will find that they have also started a non-profit that is working on developing a modernized manual wheelchair. I am pretty sure that they have partnered up with IIT/ID to get it realized.

If you are talking about a design consultancy firm taking a market opportunity and exploiting it, an example might be Design Integrity in Chicago – they built and then spun off a company that makes the Peter Potty, a toddler urinal that speeds up toilet training of boys, and a few related toilet products.


It seems like what you are thinking about happens a bit more in furniture? Where a designer comes up with an idea for something, prototypes it, and essentially sells it outright or licenses the idea to a manufacturer.? Also, inventors work this way. Is that what you are looking for?

Yes, this is another model that would apply. Sprocket’s example of the company that fostered ideas into viable ideas is pretty much exactly what I am looking for.


Fuego Grill and Regen solar products:

I think the reason you don’t see it is because it requires a business skill-set that most design firms don’t have, and a LOT of capital–something most design firms definitely don’t have!

Why there aren’t more partnerships, I’m not sure… It’s probably because no one’s really figured out how to make a repeatable and sustainable process. I could see one where a business person with VC connections sets up a relationship with a design firm, agrees to check in once a quarter to vett concepts, and then finds funding for some of the best. The design firm would agree to invest a certain amount of time to generating the concepts.

This is something I suspected as well.

I have been thinking for a while now, that designers and Angels need to partner.

A lot of toy industry concepts are done this way where designers/inventors pitch ideas for royalties.

Yes, I agree. But that is what I call passive. Waiting for an inventor/entrepreneur to raise money and gain confidence of the Investor Community.

I am talking more along the lines of actively participating in the business. Driving it. Getting involved in the “entrepreneurial spirit” of the product.

Thanks for posting about thinkmore! I’m really excited to see a consultancy like this in Chicago.

Wasn’t RKS in the guitar business… or was that another firm?

I actually interviewed with Mr Brunner back in the day and one of the projects was finishing Fuego and getting it to production… it was at Pentegram. Since the design group split off into Ammunition, I guess the projects are shown under the new name

Another interesting model is IDEOs toy invention group. They invent new toys on their own dime, then pitch them to companies who then buy the work and make them under their own name. Really cool stuff too - one was a radio controlled car that could transform into spherical ball then back into a car, all while going at top speed!