Design groups should stick to what they’re good at

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There has been much discussion recently about whether design consultancies can, or should, reposition so they are seen in the same light as management consultants and charge higher fees.

The term “management consultants” is very broad and includes a huge range of different types of business. I feel unhappy about comparing ourselves with them without being more precise.

What type of management consultancy do we think we should be like? It seems unlikely that any design group has serious aspirations to be like McKinsey or Andersen, however much we may be tempted by their mouth-watering fees. Their businesses are just so different from ours, in terms of their focus, skills, size and resources.

The big management consultancies have armies of professionals who are strong on research and analysis. They have a detailed knowledge of industries and markets. They are at home with numbers and quantitative techniques. Helping define corporate strategy is at the heart of their offer.

Design consultancies, on the other hand, understand consumers – whether they be investors, customers or members of staff. The good design consultancies are in touch with how people think and feel. They know how to attract people’s attention, how to reach out to them and how to influence their behaviour. In other words, how to help implement strategies and make them successful.

Successful implementation is just as important as setting the right direction. It requires a set of skills which are just as valuable – but they are different.

The way to charge clients more is not to make vague comparisons with other types of service business, but to be clear about what we are good at, and get even better at doing it – making sure, of course, that our clients actually want what we have to offer.

Two areas design companies are generally good at are vision and inspiration. Why are these important? Vision is important because people, whether customers or staff, help to make abstract concepts or broad ideas a reality. Inspiration is important because people need to be energised into making changes. We can help drum up that energy and stimulate the necessary momentum, enthusiasm and passion to impel action.

It is a cliché to say that the business environment is changing as never before, but it is true. One of the key trends is devolution of responsibility and power, assisted by the technology shift away from mainframes to distributed systems, companies are keen to find ways of getting more out of their people. This means giving them the means to map out the way forward for their offer, product, service or department, and the energy to work towards it.

If we can become excellent at helping companies convey vision and inspiration our worth will become clear and we will be able to justify charging more. We shouldn’t be distracted into trying to compete with management consultancies, we should learn to work more effectively alongside them. Companies and organisations need help from both of us.

Clare Fuller

Head of consultancy

Bamber Forsyth

London W1

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