How design businesses can embrace change

The DBA’s John Scarrott looks at how consultancies can build a change-friendly structure.


Source: Nanagyei

In recent times design businesses have been faced with a stark choice: adapt or die. One area of the creative sector where this has been acutely felt is in digital design. These businesses are routinely required to lead change as opposed to simply respond to it.

I met up with James Downes, a director of Pancentric, a digital design consultancy of 60 people based around the corner from Shakespeare’s Globe on the banks of the Thames in London, and he shared his thoughts on what factors influence the landscape for digital design businesses and how Pancentric manage these.

Change factors

‘In the digital space, if you don’t change, you don’t survive. Change has become the norm and looking at better ways of doing things is how we respond to it. You can’t sit there doing the same thing; it just won’t work.

There are two factors that combine to make this the case. Firstly it’s embedded in the type of work that we do. When we create a website, it’s a living breathing thing. The launch of the website is just the start. There is no endpoint, only the next step.

The other driver of change is the continued advancement in technology and how consumers respond to it. The technology providers are taking a gamble on what consumers will take up and how they will use it. The only certainty is that there will be innovation and consumers will respond. We need to be close to these changes so that we can be imagining the range of possible implications for our clients and their customers.’

A flexible working culture

‘Our working culture is all about flexibility. If people want stability we’re the wrong place for them. We don’t do it! We rely on our people to champion the things they are passionate about. For example our head of social started out as a campaign manager. He has his own blogs and social media platform. He came to us and said “I want to do more of this.” We took the view that this would be good for the business and that facilitated his move.’

Structure of teams

‘With the flexible nature of the business it’s key to have a structure that supports this. We operate as lots of little businesses working together. Strategy, execution, design and build, managed services and product. It’s unusual to have client teams. We work practice by practice and their knowledge and understanding evolve in a feedback loop – user to consultancy to client.’

Process has evolved

‘We reviewed what a scalable business looked like for us. If you stick purely with design build and implementation you can’t grow these without growing your fixed costs. Where we’ve found real value is in working at the strategic end of the business before any of the rest gets done. By collapsing design and build together and focusing on strategy we’ve built a scalable model.’

We do the do, not just the say

‘Ultimately we recognise that our work is never finished, even when we deliver the next web project. Working in digital means we deal with living, breathing, changing things that interact with one another. It’s the very nature of the medium that drives the change.’

John Scarrott is membership director at the Design Business Association. His DBA blog, Conversations With, is here.

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