Disappearing Design Business?

Robert Fabricant wrote an interesting piece for Wired on shifts in the design business. Large consultancies are being acquired by corporations. Many companies had paid lip service to design in the past, but design led companies, like Apple, have proved that design pays in cash, as well as aesthetics. Many of these consultancies and individuals were seen as stars in the industry, leading to concern that many independent studios will face the choice between dwindling profits or seeking new ownership. Any industry can be disrupted and transformed as the world changes, but I, for one, am not as concerned for the place of the independent design agency.

Despite the large acquisitions there are many smaller design shops that serve clients with neither the capital, or desire, to acquire or build their own teams. If anything, the example of larger companies embracing design will likely lead to increased design budgets for smaller firms that will be paid to consultants and design studios, a good thing for the industry as a whole. Building and maintaining quality internal design teams is not cheap, and even if IBM can hire hundreds at a time, many substantial companies will not be able to justify the expense.

This article doesn’t address why many larger companies use external agencies, despite the fact that they have capable internal teams. It is often politically easier to take risks using contractors, from whom you can severe ties, if the results are not what you wanted. Internal design teams may actually increase risk aversion in many larger organizations.

Additionally, there are plenty of interesting opportunities for a design firm to position itself as an independent entity in a world of acquisitions. Some creative agencies have experimented with treating their work as an investment in return for equity in the companies for whom they work. If more companies begin insourcing design the value of an independent voice will likely increase. The question then becomes how are you positioned to use that voice?

I believe large scale acquisitions of design talent is a good thing for the industry overall. It demonstrates a commitment and investment in the profession that could very well increase the demand for design in general. There’s no need to panic. Besides… I hear IBM is hiring.