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Endangered design

By Margaret 5-10 minute read

Recently I read an interesting article by Blair Enns, whose company provides business development training for creative firms. In it he talks about the demise of the design firm and how if a design company does not align itself with another offering, their time is limited in this changing industry landscape.

I'm wasn’t entirely sure what Blair defined as a 'design firm'. When I think about it, he's probably talking about an entity that provides design only without additional marketing / strategy to support the offering. In which case these sort of firms probably do have a limited life span.

Blair taIks about design firms having to put themselves in one of three categories – Marketing, Communication  or Product Development. I agree with him in that what a firm needs to succeed is a mix of people, whether it is a 'Marketing' or 'Communication' offering consisting of marketing/communication/design, or a 'Product Development' offering consisting of UX/UI design/development/support on a more technical level.

The reason for this change is partly because design has become a commodity - you can get cheaply designed logos, icons, brochures, websites or choose from a range of templates to purchase and do it yourself. In the past, this was not available and hence, there was a call for design firms to provide such work.

Before graphic designers worked computers, everything was created by hand. When new technology came in, those designers that didn’t adapt, were quickly left behind and became obsolete. This is the same now in terms of design only firms and the rise of the digital landscape.

There will still be designers, probably more on a freelance level - the guys that a small marketing/comms company could call on to enhance their offering. I have seen this in the market in terms of how many 'traditional/print' designers are looking for work. If you don't have any marketing or digital skills then then career opportunities in industry are low, predominantly because 'design firms' have closed their doors.

Another aspect is what used to be called 'Design thinking'. This has now morphed into the area of User Experience (UX) design and it has moved away from designers to the realm of marketing/business analysts and UX designers (which are a mix of BA and UI designer). You cannot sell simply 'design' anymore - there are too many nicely designed things out there now. Everyone’s a designer, right?

In the case of Zeroseven, if we were to put ourselves into one of Blair's categories, it would be 'Product Development' as we build 'products' for our clients and essentially become their 'Website development' team, only not in-house.

Most traditional advertising agencies now have digital teams in-house but there are still plenty of companies who will never have that due to cost and the knowledge required of putting together a team in the first place (this could change in the future though). On the flipside, a lot of companies that don't have web teams have in-house designers or call on freelancers, rather than design firms and hence why these firms are becoming obsolete.

So, ‘design (only) firms’ and traditional designer might be becoming obsolete but if they complement their skills with a digital offering, UX, UI or marketing, they will stay ahead of the trend.