The DBA’s client challenge

The Design Business Association took a big step forward this week, announcing that it is to open up membership to clients for the first time in its 25-year history.


The DBA has been moving this way for a while – last year it set up a client advisory body for its directory, which included representatives from Buro Happold, Yell, BT and others.

Now a pioneer group of companies has taken full membership. Identified by the DBA as design-savvy companies, the founding client members are: Arup, Buro Happold, Virgin Atlantic, HSBC Private Bank, Diageo, GlaxoSmithKline and Nestlé.

Opening itself up to client members has clear advantages for the DBA. It’s an additional revenue stream and it gives them direct access to influence decision-making clients.

For existing DBA members the move provides a link to clients, while for the potential client members, the initiative gives them a chance to position themselves as a ‘design-led’ business.

Still from the DBA's 25th anniversary campaign, by BW Studio
Still from the DBA’s 25th anniversary campaign, by B&W Studio

But challenges remain of course. How will the DBA vet potential client members? How will it make sure ugly issues such as free-pitching don’t rear their heads? Currently the plan is to make the sign up to an adapted version of the current members’ code of conduct.

There’s also the issue of how the DBA (and its members) will be able to influence huge global companies with multiple agendas.

The first, and very important, step has been made, and to make client membership work will require a huge amount of work, dedication and commitment. We wish the DBA the greatest of success.

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