I was reading this weekend about Teehan + Lax now becoming part of Facebook. As a company I respected I have enjoyed reading the discussion and debate. Their goal: to create a digital agency that was different, an alternative in the market is very similar to mine when setting up Brilliant Basics (bb).
Teehan + Lax, like bb, thought less about projects and more about products. At bb, we say we are in the ‘business of products’, that ‘we create products that make life simply better. We do this for our clients, our partners and ourselves.’
They are lovely words, agreed, but they are so much more. This move from a traditional agency ‘projects’ model to a ‘products plus partnership’ model, is now more important than ever.
When I launched bb in 2012, I wanted the company to operate under three pillars: consult (the traditional agency ‘project’ model), create (creating our own products and therefore our own entrepreneurs) and collaborate (moving beyond the traditional agency ‘projects’ model to a ‘products plus partnership’ model).
In the short time we’ve been around, we have had success in each pillar. But why is this product vs. project mindset so important?
At bb, we believe that product is everything.
It’s marketing, technology, experience and service. It’s revenue and bottom line. I don’t need to talk about how Uber, a company with a product mindset has changed the game within its industry, just Google it (yes, another!) and you will see how every industry is getting advice on how to become the Uber of…
Brilliant products require on-going investment; projects are usually about minimising cost.
No digital product is ever perfect on launch. However, agencies traditionally deliver projects, not products, which means there’s usually no phase two (or very limited), and no opportunity to realise the full potential of the work delivered as part of the project in phase one. Products need to evolve and be fine-tuned to how customers are actually using them over time to become great. A product mindset favours an on-going engagement, where agency and client work in partnership to not only lay the foundation of a great product, but work together to make sure it reaches it’s full potential.
Designers need to get involved early to deliver brilliant products.
Often agencies get brought in too late and key decisions that will affect the final artefact have already been made. I read in an article in Wired the other day that “designers learned that driving change deep into a product portfolio requires more than design thinking: it requires a seat at the table”. Design is a boardroom decision and more and more things happening, such as the Teehan + Lax announcement, is showcasing this to be true.
It’s a good financial decision.
Pitching all the time is hard work and expensive. The partnership plus product model is good for agencies in this respect. It also allows clients to build up confidence and trust in agencies rather than looking at them as a resource to exploit (which sadly, can sometimes be the case). It also opens up the potential for agencies to share in the success of work they do long term.
Digital projects are full of tough decisions and intricacies.
It is much easier to deal with these challenges in a trusted partnership than the relationship that can sometimes exist between agency and client.
And how do we do it? By changing the way we work.
By bringing a culture of rapid design and prototyping. What used to take months is now done in days to focus on what matters. In addition, gone are the days where one person does just one thing. Welcome to the new world of ‘T-shaped’ people who are multidisciplinary, can change context, are agile and who understand the customer and the world we live in.
Of course now another great independent agency has been taken under the wing of a larger organisation, following in the footsteps of a long list that include the likes of SapientNitro, Adaptive Path and Fjord, I am excited to see what the future holds for bb. It’s more than important that teams that work on creating digital products are not just all about ‘in-house’. The purchase of Teehan + Lax shows that this ‘in-house’ trend is continuing. But when teams become internal, the borders begin to blend — how can you separate yourself from the ‘business as usual’ when you are part of it? Ultimately, decisions can become bland and people become not satisfied in their jobs.
I believe bb’s ‘consult, create and collaborate’ model, underpinned with our belief in the business of products, is the answer to this. Middle ground for both those we work with and those who work for us. Good luck to Teehan + Lax, but here’s watching bb.