Stephen Randall, and envisioning a new Design 2.0

09annualheaderStephen Randall invented the digital guitar, and is the founder of LocaModa here in Cambridge. He spoke today at the DMI conference on what he called “Moving Design from Impression to Expression”.  I’ll simply call it, Design 2.0, a really articulate call to arms for the use and impact of social media in the design process.

As he said in his introduction, “what are the challenges facing brands, agencies, and designers, and how can multi-channel user experiences still result in a unified message?”

He began by describing the impressionistiic “old” media of books, TV, and radio as a media form that is a monologue  .  .  one-way  .  .  passive and a push form of communication. He then described the promise of web 2.0 as filled with expressionistic, open, real time, connected, cross-channel, cross-platform, user-generated content that has a foundation in personalization and collaboration.

As he spoke, it began to occur to me that when he described the form and function of “old” media it sounded a lot like a description of the traditional design process between a design consultant and client. A process that historically results in a monologue by the design firm and is usually a one way form of communication with the consultant doing most of the talking.

I began to imagine what a Design 2.0 process could act like. It would be much more collaborative and personal to be sure. It could be more interactive with the client, consumer and other stakeholders involved more often. It could be open source, and have a real-time component with various forms of social media playing a role. But serious questions began to emerge as I envisioned this new design process.

First let me be clear I come to this discussion as the owner of a package design firm. That means that while we make a transition from design process 1.0 to 2.0 I still need to keep the lights on. So identifying revenue opportunities is important to me and receiving honest value will continue to be important to our clients.

So at the end of Stephen’s talk I asked him what he thought Design 2.0 will look like, and if he has seen any examples of design processes and/or organizations that are beginning to make the transition. I mentioned that to me, at least so far, very few industries have survived this kind of turmoil intact. I mentioned the music industry as one example where the artists, music publishers, and retailers are all still struggling with new business models. And certainly the publishing and print media industry is going through similar strife at this moment.

I can’t think of a single industry that creates intellectual property that isn’t stressing about the future. Certainly crowd-sourced design sites aren’t a solution for much of anything other than stealing work from designers to the benefit of greedy web site operators and naive clients.

His answer was twofold. First, he was not aware of a specific case of a design firm that has changed its processes to completely embrace Design 2.0. And second, he suggested that the industry may need to go to more of a process based rather than product based compensation method. I guess this would suggest that a design firm act as the ring leader for the final solution rather than as the sole source for the solutions.

And I admit to being a bit confused by his final suggestion that we may need to look toward royalty based rather than fee based compensation systems. Hmmm. I began to wonder whether he has looked at the work for hire contracts that I am asked to sign with any of our large consumer product company clients.

So I was left with this. While I am a big fan of the notion of Web 2.0, and certainly have a growing appreciation, with the help and advice from friends like Grant McCracken, for its fundamental and ever-increasing role in keeping our firm in front of the world, I see it still as strategically a communications platform. So I am not yet sure how, or even whether, this communication platform should be used as a platform for the new Design 2.0 business model.

Anyone have any ideas?


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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2 Responses to Stephen Randall, and envisioning a new Design 2.0

  1. Richard,

    Thanks for including that embarrassing link of me in ’80s with the digital guitar 🙂 (The presenter was the only one miked at the BBC, so I could only nod and smile – still makes me cringe).

    I’ve been thinking about your question and have a few comments:

    1. I’d like to think that there’s obviously value in understanding the lessons of moving from “Impression to Expression” even if doing so creates more value for your clients than your own business. However, if you design websites that value will be realized more readily than if you design medical equipment. In other words, the potential of a Design 2.0 model is unlikely to benefit the entire design industry (at least not in the short term) in the same way.

    2. A Design 2.0 process is likely to be more iterative (think Google’s “always in beta” mode) and agile, and might lead to a Software as a Service model. Design as a Service (a new acronym DaaS?) means that the Design 2.0 business model is built around a life after delivery. If your clients fail to understand the iterative nature of such a process, and the beneficial economics of agile development over traditional waterfall processes (the latter can be more expensive when it comes to the cost of mistakes/redesign), then you will lose them to commoditized service providers anyway. In any case, as we know, competing against commoditzed services is unsustainable. So it behooves companies facing such competition to take the first steps towards changing the rules and expectations of engagement.

    3. My comment about royalty rather than fee-based models goes beyond the obvious issue of defending against off-shore price cutting. It’s about extending and changing the relationship with clients. “Work for hire” contracts would be replaced by licensing or partnership agreements (plenty of problems to solve there – but hey, I never said it would be easy). The point is to move the client awy from thinking about your firm as a vendor.

    4. The web’s “freemium” model forces companies to think seriously about where they add value. Customer acquisition is VERY expensive, so focusing on retention and upselling premium services can be a better approach. Again, this does not work for all design companies, but I do think there are opportunities to share risk and reward and/or sustain more valuable client relationships by moving away from a consulting approach to a service model approach.

    For sure, there will be pain in any industry transition, but if you look at other IP based industries, such as the music or movies industries, there are some emerging examples of IP owners (Radiohead is a good example in the music industry) changing the rules and winning mindshare and marketshare in the process.


    • Stephen, Thanks for your thoughts.
      On points 1. and 2. I do concur that design will need to follow the commodity, product, brand, service, and experience path. Anyone who is stuck two or three steeps back will likely be left behind.
      On point 3. Our firm provides mostly consumer product brand identity and package design services, so nothing would make me happier than to redefine the client/supplier relationship that has been created in the last couple of decades.
      On point 4. I would like to learn more about your ideas on the service model approach to design. This may be the most important theme here, because it has a fundamental impact on who we are, what we provide, how we are compensated, what is our relationship with clients, heck I think it could even redefine the definition of clients in the traditional sense. Consultants have clients, services have . . .
      Regards, Richard

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