Post written by Paul Thurston
Over the past few months we’ve been talking a lot about design agencies that want to move into the field of service design and helping them get ‘Pitch Ready’. Informal comments from the Design Council about ‘a lack of service design agencies’ as well as feedback from friends in other areas of the UK have highlighted the need to turn service design awareness into service design competency.
This reminded me of an event we ran last October Nick Marsh and Ben Reason in Cardiff. The event was called ‘Service design for growth’ which we hosted at The Pierhead as part of Cardiff Design Festival. Both speakers gave interesting and very different perspectives on service design but there’s one thing I took away that night that’s really stuck with me.
Whilst in conversation during the Q&A Nick asked Ben how crucial LiveWork’s streetcar project was to the success of the business, at the same time reflecting on his time at Engine and their own showpiece project with Virgin Atlantic. Both are great examples of user-centred service design and for anyone familiar with these companies they’re the projects that spring to mind when you think of them.
In response to this Ben spoke about the opportunities that a showpiece project can have, the doors it can open and the perception clients have of you as a business. However neither Nick or Ben spoke about making it rich off these projects, in fact both said pretty much said they were done at cost. Each business valuing these killer projects as the kind of opportunity that only comes along once in a while, and has the potential to define a young agency.
This is something I’ve experienced myself working at Thinkpublic in London. When i joined in 2005 it was a start-up design agency that aimed to ‘make complex information simple’ for patients and staff in the NHS. Within four years it had turned into the UK’s leading public service design agency. One project in particular (Experienced Based Design) had the same effect that Nick and Ben described. Therefore I speak from experience about the number of clients that came to our door on the back of this, ready to buy into our service design process.
So, having a killer project or case study to talk about is essential; but how do you get ‘Pitch Ready’ and make the transition from service design awareness to possessing a true service design competency and portfolio?
Winning that killer project
On the back of our work with design agencies in Wales (through SD4D) we’re pretty sure this is what agencies need – good, solid case studies that demonstrate how an agency can help deliver innovative service solutions that add value to a clients business. There are three ways you can win this killer project, these are;
1: Propose new ideas to your existing clients
These are people that are open to working with you, have bought into your brand and know what you’re about. Start by explaining you’re doing an R&D project and that you would like to work with them on this. You may even offer them a reduced rate in exchange for the right to publish the resulting project.
2: Start talking to new prospects differently
When you meet potential new clients tell them what you’re doing, be transparent and honest about where you want your business to go. You won’t win new clients all the time but you will win respect and if it sounds interesting perhaps a follow up. This video clip from Joel Bailey (Director of Service Design at Capita) sums this point up better than I can: https://vimeo.com/21013957
3: Explore new funding models
Design agencies are innovative and creative places but the business model isn’t. Most agencies rely on the expert consultant model where clients pay a fee to receive expert advice and materials that they don’t have the skills or resources to create themselves.
But there are lots of different ways to get paid, particularly if your looking to do something more innovative and experimental than your bread and butter work. Take a look at these recent calls for innovative ideas from the Design Council, NESTA or Ordnance Survey. These are serious projects with decent budgets for those willing to invest in something innovative.
You don’t always get paid for research and development
Think about your favourite product company, they will have people working on ‘the next big thing’ and developing new technology. But this isn’t free, in fact it’s really, really expensive.
So, if you’re a small design agency wanting to establish a credible service design competency think of this as R&D and investment in your business and look for the projects that will win you credibility, exposure. Also seek out projects that give you experience, not just the ones that pay the bills. And when they do come along make sure you do an amazing job and tell people about it.
You get the work you talk about
If you’re fed up of having the same conversation with your clients, start talking differently about your work. I remember speaking to a designer when i first joined Design Wales who was attended a service design workshop. Afterwards she said “our clients won’t pay for this” to which I responded “don’t try to sell it to them then”, a flippant comment perhaps but the sentiment is true; within six months of this conversation that same agency sold their first service design project to a national high-street brand.
Remember to talk about the work you want to win, not that dull project you just did for a client you don’t like. If you want to help your clients design new services that make a real difference to their business start talking to them about it.
So, if you want to transition from being a graphics, branding, interactive or product company start thinking about how your going to win that killer case study.
I’d love to hear what you think about this article as we’re currently looking into new ways of helping the SD4D graduates get ‘pitch ready’. Just drop me a line on 02920416720, email me at email@example.com or tweet us @SD_Wales