Design Studios Are Not Going Away
Much hoopla has been made lately about design services disappearing. Studios seem to be getting swallowed up by larger corporations to help aid their in-house design teams. This has led many folks to believe the design service industry as a whole is dying.
Well, it’s not.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Surprise, surprise! A designer doesn’t want to use Helvetica their entire career.
Before co-founding Rally Interactive, I worked at several design shops where I’ve made friends and mentors. Despite what the tech industry might lead you to believe, far more designers I have known continue to work for studios. These folks are immensely talented creatives getting hit up by Silicon Valley recruiters on a weekly basis.
So why haven’t these designers left the studio life?
It’s not because studios pay more. In fact, most folks could make far more money if they left and worked at a larger corporation.
I believe designers hesitate to leave the studio life behind because it offers variety where big corporations can’t. While many designers love to work on useful tools, they also selfishly love to change it up. They like to work with different typefaces, color palettes, layouts, strategies, and problems.
Corporate design teams will struggle to provide satiation for these designers because there is only one brand, one style guide, and a lot of times — only one product.
If designers can’t work on a variety of projects or challenges over time, it may lead to stagnation in their execution and sometimes even their thinking toward design problems.
Location, Location, Location.
Working in-house for a large corporation often requires a designer to re-locate. Shockingly, not all designers want to live in Silicon Valley or in the city of a corporation’s HQ.
The designers who refrain from making a move are likely to join a current shop or start their own in an area conducive to their lifestyle. Or, they could just choose to freelance.
I’m pretty certain there is no corporation who can pay to have the Wasatch Mountain Range delivered to my doorstep.
Designers on the same project for 6+ months will suffer from varying degrees of Burnout.
Burnout on a project or product — no matter how challenging, life-changing, or extraordinary — happens to almost every designer. Corporations will have a tougher time treating this.
At Rally, we take on plenty of clients that have long term project needs — some lasting well over a year. One thing I’ve noticed is many designers will start feeling burned out after working on the same project for 4–6 months. I’ve witnessed this many times — including when its happened to me.
What can be done without compromising the quality of work?
This type of burnout is something a vacation often can’t solve. A designer needs an extended period of time (3+ months) occupying their thinking and skill set on a completely different project.
Studios have the ability to offer their designers breaks from a long project much easier than a corporation. They can do this because they’re more likely to have different clients and projects running simultaneously.
For example, at Rally, we’ve learned that on large scale projects it’s helpful to set up design teams to rotate on and off a project every 4–6 months. It keeps the thinking, motivation, and general design fresh. It also provides respite for the designers who have been beating their heads against the wall over the same set of complex problems for months.
Contrary to what many traditional product people might think, properly on-boarding new designers to a project can be hugely valuable. They offer a fresh perspective and are able to do incredible work even on complex connected systems.
When a designer thinks about a problem for too long (too many months), they start brainstorming and designing in a box.
The Design Service industry, like all industries will need to evolve.
This means exploring non-traditional business models.
I can’t tell you what the evolution will be just yet, but one example of something we’re exploring at Rally is revenue share with some clients in exchange for discounted rates.
For every one studio a corporation acquires, there will be two more popping up and flourishing.
Rally is an Interactive Studio. We design and develop digital products — mobile, web, and non-traditional interfaces / connected systems.