In challenging times don't stick to what you know

UXB London Managing Director, Sean O'Halloran, writes for the Design Business Association magazine, DBA Insight, about changing times in the design industry.

Even without the credit crunch, oil price rises and global economic gloom, business is in the midst of huge upheaval. The internet is forcing change at a relentless pace and it is disrupting just about about every business type, sector and model one can think of, regardless of organisational size, reputation or brand. Any business that is being run the same way today as it was before the spread of broadband either has it's head in the sand or is heading for a crash. This is as true for the creative industries as it is for our clients.

Challenges and opportunities

The disruption is such that I confidently predict the creative landscape you think of as familiar now will be almost unrecognisable within two years. Some of the biggest names in the business will disappear before then and as yet unheard of upstarts will become the new stars. How will they do this? By being smarter, faster and more agile than their peers.

Small is big

Big business has sometimes levelled criticism at the design sector for being a 'cottage industry'. With so many agencies having less than 10 staff and operating largely as lifestyle businesses, there may be some justification in this. In the current mixed up media scramble however, small can be a distinct advantage because it allows you to be nimble, highly specialised and to collaborate with complementary agencies. Some small businesses are exerting disproportionate influence on major organisations by exploiting a high value niche and delivering the services that clients really need.

Think again

The internet cannot be thought of as simply another medium that needs to be factored in to the marketing mix. Digital communication is unlike anything else, it creates an entirely different ecology and its influence is so profound that it enables new ways of operating for business and customers alike. Succeeding in this territory is not simply a matter of developing a new skill set for design businesses - it requires a new mind set.

Jump in

New enterprises emerge almost weekly that are not just variations to the existing order but are a fundamental rethink of a business sector or product category. What characterises those that succeed is an ability to see things differently, the will to defy convention and the gumption to take risks. They can do this because they have understood and embraced the new ecology. They know that people's expectations and relationships to products, services and brands, has changed forever. They also know how to exploit the gaps left open by those that are too big or too slow to adapt.

Sink or swim

Digital communication technology reduces the cost of experimentation. The barriers to entry for any product, service or system delivered online is therefore also reduced. As this realisation permeates further and further into the business world it will accelerate the pace at which 'business as usual' becomes a thing of the past.

What is brand experience?

The implication for the UK's creative industries are significant. Clients are already demanding solutions that challenge the norm. Understanding that something big is happening, clients are moving marketing communication budgets away from traditional media in favour of online. Advertising budgets are heading that way too at the expense of big ticket media such as TV and press. And what will happen to the practice of branding when value is controlled entirely by customer experience?

Get it

If the UK design industry is to really help clients in uncertain times, adapting to this shifting landscape is a must. UK design agencies need to know how changing client and consumer habits affect their specialism and ability to add value. This is true whatever sub-category of the sector you're in, from packaging to POS and from Flash game development to intranet design.

Get on

Great designers are problem solvers that create elegant solutions to the toughest challenges. To ensure you can thrive through the bumpy times ahead and come out stronger for it, the challenge is to see things differently, defy convention and take risks.