Tag Archives: business

Network effects

A major consideration when locating a design studio is the catchment area for potential employees. If you want to hire the best staff, you want to have a location both that people want to travel to, and also that people are able to travel to. That’s why Floate is located in Melbourne’s central business district. Our office is across the road from a railway station on the City Loop, and is within 5 minutes walk of every major tram line. This place is convenient.

But that convenience comes at a cost. Rent and other on-costs mean that the price of simply opening the doors each day is equivalent to hiring another designer. Additionally, we are limited to the pool of potential employees who live within about an hour of the city, or who live near public transport. Melbourne is a notoriously congested city, and nobody smart enough to work here is stupid enough to drive into the city every day.

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Design Is A Job – A book by Mike Monteiro

Graphic Design in Australia is a strange industry.

Generally, graphic design courses are populated with students who decided it was the right choice for people who were good at art in high school. The courses are very often taught by designers with fewer than ten years’ industry experience. The low barriers to entry mean that it’s very easy for young designers to save up enough money to start their own ‘firm’, but the design courses themselves teach students very little about the hard graft required to run a successful firm or, for that matter, to be a good, solid, working designer.

This chain of events has led to what I think of as the ‘cottagisation’ of the graphic design profession in Melbourne. We have a city of four million people studded with tiny design firms, often run by people with little to no business experience. Add to this the all-pervasive ‘everyone gets a medal’ attitude with which most young designers came of age, and we have a generation of designers who have little to no idea how to handle the real hard work of design.

I like to think of it this way – we have a cohort of young designers who have never worked under an uncompromising bastard.

Well, Mike Monteiro from Mule Design in San Francisco is an uncompromising bastard. And he’s my kind of uncompromising bastard. He’s the kind of guy who’s grumpy because he knows you could do better. We all could.

Mike’s new book, Design Is A Job, is a career’s worth of advice distilled into 140-odd concise and damned entertaining pages.

Mike’s unrelenting aim is to make you take your work (and yourself) seriously. Why? Because only by doing so can you be in the position of strength that will afford you the opportunity to do great work and, more importantly, get paid for it.

Reading through Design Is A Job, I found myself actually yelling “YES!” at parts, because Mike had perfectly encapsulated an idea that I’d tried to explain before. In a lot of ways, this is the book I wish I could have written. The difference is that I would have prevaricated and been polite. Mike doesn’t pull any punches and that makes his advice resonate.

Design Is A Job covers a lot of ground, from finding clients to negotiating contracts to actually getting paid. The advice is solid and consistently comes back to a core idea – design is work so treat it with that level of respect and then you’ll command that respect in return.

The best praise I can give the book is to say that I’ll be buying copies for everyone in my studio and it will be compulsory reading for all new hires.

Hopefully they’ll get the hint and buy a decent suit.


Design Is A Job will be available from A Book Apart on April 10. Buy it.

Save the Date

After having quite a few chats amongst ourselves and some of our associates about the kinds of design events we’d like to see in Melbourne, we decided to try something new.

We’ll unveil the details over the coming days, but in the meantime, if you want to:

• Enjoy a few drinks in the company of your colleagues;
• Hear a brief interview with two exciting local entrepreneurs; and
• Have an informal chat about the intersection of business and design;

you should mark your calendars now:

WHEN: Wednesday, 29 February, 6:00 PM
WHERE: The Rainbow Hotel, 27 St. David St., Fitzroy

It’s not merely social. It’s not just networking. It’s not a seminar. We call it The Nudge, because we think the design community can always push ourselves to be a little bit better.

We hope to see you there.

Stop designing for engineers

I’ve been around web design since the start of the web. I became despondent with the state of web design in the late 90s and gave up on it almost entirely around 2002.

I was sick of the fact that the tools, technologies and standards continued to provide a less-nuanced toolkit for designers to work with. I was sick of the state of flux around workflow. And I was tired of the relative immaturity of the industry as a whole.

Recent years have changed most (but not all) of that. Technologies and platforms exist that allow designers, writers and editors to create rich and compelling experiences for readers. We’ve got all the tools at our disposal.

And in some ways, I’m more despondent than ever.

As web design has become more and more specialised, I worry that designers have started adopting the mindset of engineers. Instead of constantly thinking about the best way to convey an idea – the best way to create a spark in the mind of a reader – I see designers simply working out how to force ‘content’ into templates.

It’s not our role to make engineers happy. Our role is to use our specialised skills to convey ideas and foster understanding. There should be considerable tension between the engineer’s demands for efficiency, and our constant push for effectiveness.

If something you’ve designed loses nothing by being viewed in an RSS reader, or by being scraped into Instapaper, then you’re simply not doing your job.

Budgets, briefs, and trust.

Recently we had a meeting with one of our favourite clients about a large and exciting new project that they’d like us to work on together. It has dozens of constituent components to be delivered over three months, and we’re very excited to work on it. The client is excited about having us work on it. We’re all giddy. And then I ask the fateful question.

“So, what’s the planned budget for this project?”

And all of a sudden the conversation is coated in sandpaper. There’s friction on every word. The client doesn’t want to give us their budget, because they’d like us to cost every component. We, on the other hand, don’t want to cost every component without an understanding of exactly where this project needs to be pitched. There’s something of a stalemate.

It needn’t happen like this.

While the client’s desire to have the agency quote the project without knowledge of the budget seems to makes sense on the face of things, it’s ultimately counterproductive and a poor use of time. When a client trusts us with the knowledge of the size of their budget, we can advise them of the best ways to invest it, and how to get the best value for money. When they simply ask us to quote, and then tell us afterwards that it’s out of their budget, we have to go back to the drawing board on fees again and again and again. It doesn’t make the client or the agency happy to pitch a $100 solution to a problem with a $25 budget.

We love our clients, and we want to do great work for them. The best work comes when there’s a strong relationship based around trust and respect for one another’s role in a project. Transparency around budget is a sign of this trust. We repay that trust by tailoring our responses appropriately to the client’s budget, and deliver the best work possible in the time the budget makes available.

NB: As an aside, it’s worth remembering that sometimes the most creative results come as a response to tight budgets. But to think about these solutions, the agency needs to know what it has to work with.