Dawton and Fitch advise graduates against going into business on their own

Deborah Dawton, chief executive of the Design Business Association, and Rodney Fitch, founder and chairman of Fitch, have advised design students and graduates not to form their own consultancies in the current financial climate.

Speaking at Central St Martins College of Art and Design in London on Monday, Dawton told the audience, ‘I wouldn’t start a design consultancy if I wanted to make money. It’s going to be very tough – you are going to be competing against experienced people.’v She added, ‘Going travelling would be “Plan B” on my list.’ Fitch backed up her comments and paraphrased author Malcolm Gladwell, saying, ‘If I was Prime Minister, you would not be allowed to start a business until you’d worked 10 000 hours on someone else’s dollar.’v Dawton and Fitch were joined by Charles Saumarez Smith, secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts, and Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, at the event, which explored the status of art and design education in the UK.

Referring to the current number of design graduates in the UK, Fitch said, ‘How on earth would we absorb them? Is this a blessing or a curse?’ He added, ‘Can we continue to view an arts education as vocational, or would it be better if everyone had an arts education but was not expected to work in the creative industries?’

Dawton said, ‘It’s becoming harder for design consultancies to find quality graduates.

They need fewer technical executionists. What they really need are good design thinkers.’ Fitch also referred to the City Academy programme of public/private education funding, which has seen initiatives such as James Dyson’s now-abandoned plans for a design school in Bath. He said, ‘Why shouldn’t the big creative sectors – broadcasting, advertising, design – contribute to their seedcorn?’


  • Universities should seek the advice of more experienced members of the design industry
  • Lecturers should make sure that they are experiencing the practice of design
  • Universities should involve clients more in project work, but make sure they are not trying to pick up projects which should be going to the industry
  • Students should maintain drawing skills, and try to work for one day a week without switching on their computer
Hide Comments (7)Show Comments (7)
  • Cristiano Bianchi November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I cannot believe Deborah Dawton said this:

    ‘I wouldn’t start a design consultancy if I wanted to make money. It’s going to be very tough – you are going to be competing against experienced people.’

    Isn’t that ALWAYS the case?

    Of course business takes business skills, but not everyone here is competing to become Prime Minister, is it?



  • Deborah Dawton November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Deborah here! These comments were lifted out of an event that last an hour and a half. I said a whole lot more and was deliberately provocative. I think you’ll also find that I told them to get in touch if they needed help, especially if they’re setting up a design business.

  • Clem November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    There’s never a good time to start up, just do it in your own way and watch the overheads.

    Collaboration is key, I think Deborah is a little out of touch with her idea of an ‘agency’ it doesn’t have to be a behemoth of a business, you can start producing quality work from a front room in Dalston.

    I agree with her very basic ideas on Universities, I’ve been saying that since I left over 10 years ago.

  • tim potts November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    So to sum up Ms Dawton’s advise:

    1) Universities should consult design industry professionals (presumably on a fee basis – nice pitch ms Dawton! )

    2) Universities lecturer’s should really be ex- design industry professionals (again, nice pitch!)

    3) Universities must not seek ‘real’ design work (so how do they keep the course relevant? or the lecturers stay in touch?)

    4) Students must learn to draw! (standard moan – even lecturers say that)

    I Cant wait for the next words of wisdom!


  • Haroon Bhuta November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I don’t think anyone should advise anyone on what you should or shouldn’t do. There is wisdom in her words but only an ounce. If graduates want to go up against ‘experienced people’ then why not? Out of a 1000 graduates, 1 might actually prove you wrong and beat all odds and do well for themselves! Sky’s the limit and there is nothing wrong in big ambition or a massive challenge.


  • Cristiano Bianchi November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Deborah, thanks for the reply. Of course not having attended the eventI could not know the comments were out of contest.

    I’m not sure though, there is a good of bad time to start your own business. I started Keepthinking in September 2001, and it was really scary. But it depends on what you are looking for. Lots of people left shop assistant jobs to become ‘web designers’ in what led to the dot.com bubble, and they were in for the quick money, when demand far exceeded supply. Most of them went back to retail.

    But the few that lasted (with a bit of luck) could have started at any time, don’t you think? Of course there are times that are easier than others, when you can grow quicker, but if you are motivated, capable, have a bit of a plan and some luck, you should not be undermined by the economic climate. Also because, in the current climate, try to find a job!

    Regards, Cristiano

  • Deborah Dawton November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Cristiano – Perhaps there’s a better way of getting designers to think twice about what they do. If they had the opportunity to rent a retail unit and set up a pizza shop but on a road that already has five pizza shops on it, would they do it now and there? The answer is probably no – not unless they think they have a proposition that is so unique that they can put the other guys out of business or at least steal some of it. I’d rather be the pizza chef than the restaurant owner knowing what I do now about who walks away with the company debt when it all goes pear-shaped.

    So I agree it’s doable. Making a great pizza is one thing, running the business that sells them is quite another – of course if you’ve been a pizza waiter for six years….

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