Hindsight is an asshole.

It only chooses to reveal the holes in your plans after you’ve fallen through them. By then it’s often too late.

Despite its disregard for the present, hindsight does teach you how to move forward a little more cautiously and deliberately, helping you avoid new holes.

With hindsight illuminating our missteps, this is the story of why we’re closing the doors at Heist Data + Design.


Prototyping the design agency of the future

Three years ago, we saw an obvious gap in the market — design thinking had become the prevailing mentality for building products in startups, and we felt it wouldn’t be long before enterprises and the types of clients we used to work with everyday in the ad industry would adopt this kind of thinking.

Heist Data + Design was born.

We felt validated when we got our first opportunity — to help a telco restructure how they designed, built and released products. It was an opportunity to start our company based on what we believed was a new kind of design agency model — one that helps determine strategies, validate need and fit, and establish the process to execute on all of this.

We were prototyping the design agency of the future.

Discovering the flaw in our model

As we built up a reputation, new opportunities trickled in.

Most of the companies we’ve had the chance to meet recognize the need to prioritize their customer experience, and they know it takes a new approach to do that well in today’s multichannel world. But few are ready to act, which created sales cycles that were too long to be tenable for an agency of our size to support.

To complicate matters, the types of companies we most wanted to help transform only need an outside consultancy at the beginning of their journey, to help get things started. Over the long term, the culture and process we’d help get off the ground would evolve to be owned by teams inside the company, not an agency.

The window to find the right client team at just the right time is short when you’re in the digital transformation business. And we didn’t make that happen often enough.

While our hypothesis that companies are changing how they design customer experiences has proven true, the small agency model we prototyped to help them do it hasn’t shown to be a sustainable response to that change.

As we saw it, this left us with three options:

  1. Scale our company up and down as the work we want comes and goes. Doable, but brutal on culture and it’s hard to attract good talent if you have a reputation for laying people off.
  2. Take on other types of work, stuff that isn’t necessarily what we got into this for, in order to keep the lights on between the good stuff. But sustaining a talented team is impossible without the right caliber of work.
  3. Or realize what you want to do and what you need to do as a business are two different things, and leave before we’ve poisoned the well.

Why we’re winding down

The truth is, we’re a design agency that built a great product-team-for-hire. I’m more proud of the work we’ve done in the three years we were in operation than I am of any other period in my career.

We could almost certainly survive, but it would come at the expense of our intrinsic motivations, our company culture and the promise we made to each of the people that believed in our vision enough to join us.

Our team is at the peak of their game — they’re super talented people with skill sets that are in high demand in the current job market. By winding down now, while we’re still proud of everything we’ve built together, we hope we’ll give them the privilege of getting to pick their next jobs, rather than forcing them to compromise their ambition here or anywhere else.

Here’s hoping hindsight is kinder next time.

If you’re looking for talented designers, design researchers and developers to add to your product team, you can get in touch directly with them here.