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What Next? Future Strategy for UK Product Design Consultancies

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Jea Hoo Na, MA, Design Strategy and Innovation , Brunel University; John Boult, Associate Professor, Design Strategy, Brunel University


What is the future of the design consultancy? An important topic if you happen to have spent your life in product design and have built up an impressive portfolio of clients. Equally important if you are just venturing into your first post-university job. Here, however, this question is being discussed not just from a personal perspective but also in the context of the economic importance of the creative industries. It has been the subject of a number of published studies (Chalk, 2006; Cox and Siodmok, 2008; Design Council, 2008; Pacey, 2008) that specifically address the creative industry in the UK and how it can increase its competitive position in the global market. These papers offer many ""macro"" suggestions for how this can be achieved, and they take a predominantly governmental perspective of the overall nature and scope of the whole UK designscape.This paper, on the other hand, focuses on the ""micro"" and practical challenges facing product-led design consultancies in the UK. Here we define product-led design consultancies as creative design consultancies in which the original service was product and/or engineering design. The evolution of these consultancies has already occurred over the years; hence some consultancies now identify themselves as ""innovation"" or ""multi-disciplinary"" design consultancies. Nevertheless, there are important assets that the product designers have that can be used effectively to gain the all important edge in this competitive world of design. Product designers belong to a creative profession whose members can think holistically when faced with problems. This is an asset for most of the creative disciplines, but because product design deals with consumables that are in direct contact with the consumers, it is natural for these designers to define problems from the perspective of consumers. This ability to understand consumers is important because it serves as a catalyst for product-led design consultancies to easily evolve into strategic innovation consultancies. The agenda of this paper is to suggest possible future directions in which the traditional product design consultancies can become more competitive as they begin to integrate business thinking into the creative thinking process. This optimization between the current interests of design and the development of strategic offerings will have a synergic effect and will help UK design consultancies to retain their value as leaders in creativity and design.This is not to say that there are no consultancies in the UK that understand that the creation of ""objects"" with social and/or commercial validity requires a broad contextual understanding at base level and a knowledge of new disciplines (i.e., branding, user research, sustainability, futurecasting) at both strategic and tactical levels. The issue in the UK and possibly in other Western economies is that this new type of thinking is at the margin and is not being considered by the majority of designers. This is both worrying and surprising in the UK, considering the educational and commercial lead that exists here.




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