Coach it out

So what skills are the most sought-after in different sectors – and where are the worst skills gaps? Suzanne Hinchliffe speaks to industry professionals about the abilities they rate most and how they encourage their staff to realise their full potential

Branding / Cheryl Giovannoni
European president, Landor Associates

In a world that is changing at a speed never seen before, professional development is crucial. People need to up-skill, reskill and adapt more than ever. We look for people who can demonstrate a real love of brands. Having a curiosity and a strong point of view about the role of brands and how they are evolving is really important.

Plenty of the young people we hire have grown up in a world where digital technology is second nature, but we often don’t take advantage of these skills. We train young recruits to do things our way, instead of integrating their knowledge into the way we do things. Therefore, Landor has developed a digital innovation group, where eight people drive digital thinking through our business – essential if design is to stay at the heart of any brand conversation.

As the training budget is often one of the hardest hit in a recession, we are having to be creative to make our budgets stretch to fund our training requirements. We have an informal programme called Lunch and Learn, where we invite a wide range of speakers – including clients, creative directors from other consultancies, business leaders, artists and photographers – to spend a lunchtime session with the company, sharing their knowledge and experience.

Product / Martin Darbyshire
Founder, Tangerine

Product design continues to broaden in scope, with deeper and more meaningful relationships developing across a wider range of activities between designer and client – insight research, innovation process and product strategy being notable examples. But the sector still suffers from intense price competition, so skills development tends to happen ’on the job’ rather than on an ongoing basis. This change has impacted our approach to recruitment, and we look for capable thinkers from a wider range of backgrounds, with a wider set of skills.

With regard to more general training I am regularly bombarded with e-mails selling seminars to improve transferable skills such as presentation or negotiation techniques. Some members of our team have benefited from participating in sessions such as these, and some of our more senior players have been mentors to others and have received coaching.

All of these routes have delivered personal and professional benefits, but they are tough to sustain on an ongoing basis. The gap of greatest importance to us is the shift in design moving towards the fringes of management consultancy, where an increased use of strategic thinking and method is required to help a business use design to deliver change. We are experiencing growing demand in this area and are building our skills by widening our network of expert collaborators, as well as doing lots of ’on the job’ training.

Interaction / Ajaz Ahmed
Co-founder and chairman, AKQA

At AKQA, we look for innovators, dreamers and entrepreneurs, not just designers. We need people who approach the work in a way that solves problems or discovers opportunities. We need people who can think big, but have excellent attention to detail.

We’re looking for people who want to advance the discipline of design. This means we need to find and develop talent that has excellent creative judgement, imagination, a passion for innovation, a broad range of influences and the ability to edit their work so it focuses on what’s important.

Some of the best schools for digital are now international- for example, Berghs School of Communication and Hyper Island in Sweden. Therefore, we recruit a lot of our design talent internationally.

With regard to creating opportunities for students, AKQA launched Future Lions five years ago. It gives students the chance to shake up the communications world with an idea that would not have been possible five years ago. The winners, who are honoured at the Cannes Advertising Festival, have all gone on to work for a major consultancy.

Retail / David Dalziel
Creative director, Dalziel & Pow

Professional development of individuals is paramount to our success, both in terms of our output and our profitability. Employing skilled, experienced designers is expensive, so nurturing your own team to become those trusted and rewarded individuals makes great business sense.

Dalziel & Pow provides in-house training and runs a ’continuing professional development’ programme to acknowledge that in a fast-developing world, we need to be open to new and innovative skills and knowledge. We also have ’invisible’ training as the senior staff members share the studio with the most junior designers – successful practice is therefore passed down to the less experienced in the team.

To do well in the retail sector design skills are the obvious priority, creatively and practically. An element of strategic thinking in less experienced designers is a rare thing and very welcome when we find it. Technical skills are required to a fairly good level, but we find we have to teach less experienced designers how to best use the more complex programmes.

London leads the way globally in retail design, so simply by our experience in that field we are considered experts. We talk at events worldwide and try to share our thinking with whoever will listen. We believe that the more you give out, the more you get back.


Recent Design Council figures have found that professional development is still low on consultancies’ agendas. How would you advise them to improve their staff skills and encourage training?

Laura Woodroffe
Director of education and professional development, D&AD

No matter how talented you are, you need to train yourself. Football is a good metaphor – Lionel Messi is widely acknowledged as a footballing genius, but he didn’t get that good without training. Not only does he practice his craft, he trains himself to go further, to get better. It’s how the good become great.

Shan Preddy
Partner, Preddy & Co

Here’s the recipe. Take talented people. Add a generous measure of good quality design-sector training courses. Allow to marinade in new skills and mind-stretching insights. Optional ingredient: season with in-house training so it fits your business perfectly. Results? Greater efficiency, increased motivation, enhanced retention and improved profitability. Enjoy.

Deborah Dawton
Chief executive, Design Business Association

Consider what investing in your people could look like: maybe one day a year to spend in another design consultancy swapping best-practice ideas; an afternoon a month to recharge your batteries visiting an exhibition; a couple of hours a week reading to inform a blog post; exchanging skills – you teach someone how to use a software programme and they teach you how they manage a tricky client; book club – read and review three current management books a year (Roger Martin’s The Design of Business is a must). All of it is free – I’ll even lend you the book. So there really is no reason why every design group in the UK shouldn’t have a training and development policy.

Ann Sharman
Manager of the design and branding team, Major Players

One of the main reasons staff give for leaving consultancies is not financial, but that they are no longer learning or developing their skills. Now that the market has picked up, training should be seen as a key investment to retain valued staff and improve the consultancy’s morale.

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