Most clients, when they hire a design studio, take the attitude that the studio is lucky to work with them, that they selected them from a plentiful pool of design companies bidding on their business. To many clients, design studios are, in a sense, interchangeable. So if you don’t want to do something the client’s way, if you don’t want to let them integrate their staff on your team or hand over your development files mid-way through a project or make certain changes to your approach, well they can easily hire the next studio to do it exactly the way they want it done instead.
This is a deadly position for a design studio because it essentially commoditizes the studio’s value. It forces the studio into a mode where it’s essentially selling units of its time and not its unique creative expertise. The only solution is to upend this equation, and create the circumstances under which clients instead feel fortunate that a studio is willing to work with them. It’s a critical difference, because it informs every event within the relationship between the two parties.
How do you make this happen? There’s only one way, and it’s not to do good work, which unfortunately is the answer that many designers prefer. Good work is a core part of what makes a successful studio, to be sure, but even more important is marketing yourself — relentlessly. It’s my belief that at least a third of the investment and/or revenue of any new design studio should be devoted to getting great press coverage, creating attention-getting publications, running advertisements, sponsoring events — in short, creating insatiable excitement around the very idea of the studio. The only way to do great projects on the terms that you want is to make the possibility of working with you incredibly special to a prospective client.
Re-reading Khoi’s take on starting a design studio, and I’m (re-)realizing: what an old way of thinking about things.