The agency is dead. Long live the agency.
Tobias van Schneider

Agency, Agents, and Aging Models

I think that there’s merit to looking back to the definition of an agent, or ‘agency’ both philosophically and socially first.


Agency is the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general, or soul-consciousness in religion) to act in a world.


In the social sciences, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.

But we’ve somehow divested this definition from the concept of the design agency we use now:

An advertising agency or ad agency or advert agency is a service basedbusiness dedicated to creating, planning, and handling advertising (and sometimes other forms of promotion) for its clients.

A phone call with Jon Lax

I remember e-mailing Teehan+Lax in 2011. Jon replied with his number and a time to call. Aside from the advice on iA, and what T+L look for in designers, we talked about the concept of the agency:

‘after you finish a project, you let go of it, and then it’s someone else’s. Even if it’s a great project…they own it, keep going with it, make it better, or fuck it up’. But it’s not yours. And that’s what you have to deal with in an agency.

Giving a shit

At our company, I once heard: ‘I need to finish this shit so that we can work on our own projects that we really care about.’ That person didn’t last long. Why would we spend any time in our life on something we didn’t care about?

We have the ability to act independently and to make free choices. Our choice and commitment is to work on projects with social impact in this world.

And we understand that they’re not our own products, but that’s ok, because we’re still in control of our time, and actions. We individually and collectively choose to help others succeed. Our product is the agency. And so we give a shit.


If our product is the agency, and our agency is able empower ‘x’ amount of companies a year to possibly bring high impact to socially positive domains… then our impact scales. And if our product is the agency, then our product scales.

There’s a difference between scaling impact, and scaling $ and a business. You can close $250,000 a year freelancing, or you can make a lot less than that building an agency and scaling impact. Financial reward will come later. How much do we really want?

I’m sure Jon and Geoff are making as much, a little bit less, or not much more than the highest margin of profits at some scale of T+L in the past 5 years of growth.


So what’s the point of everything? The point is happiness.

We’re striving for happiness. Our personal happiness, and that of the people around us. And so we’re building more than a company, or a design studio, or products.

These things are simply by-products of our labour and growth.

This measure of our success, our overall health and level of happiness, defines the type of company we build, who we hire, who we work with, and what our motivational drivers are every day. It shapes us.

Our lives are our biggest design project. And our most important product.

Changing models

We changed models. Not for the sake of change, and not only for survival, but to scale impact and further our happiness.

In 2015, we changed our single studio agency model, called tUX, to a wider organizational agency model called Design Cofounders. It’s a bigger playground to facilitate our happiness and scale of impact.

So how can we maintain this happiness, and why is the design agency dead?

We can maintain it because we’ve killed the advertising agency model of working. Like Tobias wrote, the traditional design agency is dead because it’s stuck on the edge of executing on change. Our model resonates, and keeps us happy. We’ve killed the concept of ‘executing’ on change. We own the change. And it’s ok for us to move on when we’re done…

Our studio continues to partner with companies, like we always have… we augment or replace early stage product teams. I become the CPO for our partners, and find impact, scale, and happiness doing it. And then we move on, just like a CEO moves on, or a founder sells his company and moves on.

Find happiness, scale impact, and give a shit.

We do other things to find happiness too. Things that we equally enjoy. We teach through DC Edu, we organize in the community, we’re running a conference, and hosting roundtables to think about stuff in healthcare and education. Because it’s fun and engaging. Because it brings us happiness. Not for fortune, clients, or fame.

The studio as an agency evolved into an organization as an agency. With the capacity to act independently and make free choices to scale our impact, and our happiness.

I’m going to go for a walk with my daughters now. For happiness.

The agency is dead. Long live the agency.


Thanks for reading.

If you liked this article, please hit recommend, I’d like others to read it too. Now go out there and make change happen.

The Design Cofounders logo: blue for DC Edu, red for our tUX Studio, and yellow for DMC: Design Makes Change.
Our company is Design Cofounders. We provide design education via DC Edu, business + design consulting via our studio, and drive community impact and innovation through our DMC initiative: Design Makes Change.
I wrote a longer history and background on our company and perspective. You can read it here.