Recently I had the opportunity to represent Union (formerly Studiobanks) and speak on a discussion panel of Charlotte based studio owners held by AIGA. All of the selected studios employed between 5 and 10 people. It was an honor to be included in such an esteemed group of local firms. The discussion covered various subjects like running a design studio, working in Charlotte and hiring the right people. Here is a snippet of some of my responses on the various topics:
What do you prefer to spend more time doing, design or business?
While I do enjoy business side of things, I prefer to spend more time on design and the creative direction of our various projects. There was a time about a year ago that the studio had grown to a point where I was doing business about 90% of the time. It was quite draining, so I hired a project manager to help with client relations and the day-to-day business operations of Union. How do you balance the business side with the design side while running your studio?
Not very well. When I really focus I can create a good balance between the two. Normally, I find it very hard to change gears. I find myself spending entire days or weeks on one or the other. Then I'll have to play catch up.
Where did you educate yourself about the business side of things?
It was about three months into my first design job when decided that I wanted to open my own studio. So from then until I turned in my notice, I paid close attention to the logistics of running a design studio. Since then, it has been a trial-and-error learning process. I also read a lot of books that helped fill some of the gaps in my business knowledge.
What business tools/strategies do you use when convincing clients or pitching to clients?
I have found over the last couple of years to limit the amount of comps or concepts that we pitch to clients. Clients seem to always be drawn to our least favorite ideas. However, lately we have only been showing clients our favorite concepts and then, if the client hates it, we'll show them some of our other ideas.
Profit tends to enter business language more often than not. How do you emphasize good design with the bottom line looming over your head?
I separate the two. We do let not profits come into consideration while we are working on projects. While spending more time on a design might decrease the amount of profit we could make on a project, I look at it this way: if we ever lose our emphasis to produce quality design, the business will suffer. In the long run, this means we lose profit. Union is where it is today because of our attention to detail and emphasis on good design, not profit.
How does your studio operate, through intuitive play or rigorous procedures?
Both. We have created a very open, fun and collaborative environment that is conducive for creative play and concept creation. However, we do have a set process that we work through on each project. I would not call it rigorous by any means.
When do you deem a solution successful? What factors do you use to measure success?
When it creates results for our clients.