Smart Design SF is shutting down

A VP at my last job had just come from Frog too.

I can’t comment on their decisions, but in my honest opinion each was unique and I don’t think the sign of a larger trend. I still have a lot of friends who are plenty happy there and there has always been a huge amount of fast moving attrition there. Don’t forget Lovegorve worked there for a couple of years, Yves Behar worked there for a couple of years before starting Fuse, Gadi Amit started New Deal, Bret Lovelady left and started Astro, Dan Harden left and started Whipsaw, Howard Nuk left and now is a creative director at Samsung, Sean Madden is now heading up Ziba’s Portland office… there is a strong frog “alumni network” I could go on, but also there are a ton of super talented exec creative directors and directors who are there. Don’t forget frog has like 500 people, some of the ones you mentioned might have dominated some headlines, but the talent base is pretty solid.

Personally, I would have loved to stay at frog a lot longer, it is a great place. As a creative director there I felt like I had a surprising amount of freedom. It is pretty much a “you eat what you kill” culture, so if you could go out and pitch an awesome program, you got to work on an awesome program. My reasons for leaving were very unique, I found my dream opportunity. When I was young I had a mentor, Jerry, who was a retired designer that used to work with Raymond Loewy. He told me that some day I would find a company that knew how to make high quality, high performing products, but didn’t know anything about design, and when I found that company I should quit my job and bring them design. He told me to design the products, the brands, the buildings, the packaging, the way the company itself works and just never take no for answer and to stick my nose in everything… I listened to Jerry.

Thanks for sharing that insight. Very inspiring.

He was a fellow alumni from RISD (class of 40-something!) and he left a message on my answering machine (it was 1999) and asked if he could buy me lunch. We had lunch once a month for a couple of years. Awesome guy. Had a treasure trove of awesome canson renders. Lived in an mid century modern house that he had designed. Seemed like he had it pretty well figured out. I wish I had kept in touch better or kept better records. I don’t even have his last name, but he gave me a lot of advice in my early career. You need to seek those mentors out. They won’t be around forever and they probably won;t be some famous designer type. More likely it will be a super humble person who has seen it all like Jerry was.

yo, so … you had lunch with this man once a month for two years and you don’t know his last name? Just some awesome guy named Jerry?

Did Jerry follow his own advice?

Dan: not everyone puts their last name in the user name :wink:

Yo: I’ve been fortunate enough to run into a few Jerrys too. It’s a shame we don’t stay in better touch with them:/

He did. He left Loewy to go work for a client.

Another approach to running a consultancy that might be the path of the future is to become an investor-consultant, or a design partner. I have experienced this at Ammunition in SF.

Basically, Ammunition would take stake in startups and projects and in exchange handle all the design work, effectively becoming an in-house design team for a startup company.
So certain designers would be put on this client and develop tight relationships and get a lot of access in the development without having to compete with other consultants or in-house design teams. Information would be free-flowing.

Why this works particularly well for a firm like Ammunition is due to the fact that they are in a position to handle everything from strategy, UX/UI, ID to packaging, ensuring consistency throughout the development.

Ammunition has stake in over 25 projects currently where they ask for royalty or equity instead of nominal fees.
Especially for startups, this is really attractive, not just because of the reduced or eliminated upfront fees but also because of the fact that the consultancy now also has financial skin in the game.
For the consultancy this could prove to be a long term, tight business relationship with lots of creative control which could spell repeat business and profits rolling in long after the project is finished.

Not all the partnerships are public of course but the latest two, Leeo and the leather goods company Octovo are successful examples. Another one and probably the most famous one is Beats.

Of course you need to have a firm that has a strong business team to spot the right investments and a location that lends itself to this like SF, London or NY but I believe that Robert Brunner really is on to something.

Smart gets a percentage of the sales of every OXO product they design.

This is true however I believe there is a negotiated cap on those earnings per year. That is typically the deal in such royalty agreements. On a side note, I heard through the grapevine that OXO has been less than thrilled with Smart’s work as of late…
Another crank on the rumor mill :wink:

I think both Fuse and Mnml do similar deals. Taking stake in companies when they do design work. Its an interesting business model, especially if it pays off.

I know this is sort of late; but after doing a bit of Google researching on Smart Design this Sunday morning over my coffee… was curious to learn why Smart Design now has only 2 offices left, I found this thread.

Interestingly, I used to drool over their work and had aspirations of working in their NYC office right after design school. After trying for over 2 years to get my foot in the door at Smart, I never gained any traction there. But I kept seeking out firms/companies outside the NYC area and after several internships at in-house design teams, I finally got a secure, in-house design position at a well-known company. Though I have little experience with consultancies and their work culture, I’ve met senior to lead designers at my current company who have shared with me their own experiences with both; preferring now that they are older the corporate environment to that of the consultancy. I do appreciate all the work SMART is known for; especially the stuff they’ve done for OXO. If you ever watch the documentary, Objectified; it’s a real treat when they interview the founders. : )

Really interesting perspectives from everyone in the discussion, it was a really insightful to hear your opinions and views!