an online conversation
about design management

Selling design value

Design business model canvas

This five hour face-to-face workshop shows studio owners and managers how to develop a design business model canvas.

The workshop is followed by mentoring sessions that help you achieve your goals.

This thinking is innovative and creative. We especially value Greg’s understanding of the design industry in Australia.
Maryann Howley - Tangelo



The Designing demand five hour face-to-face workshop shows studio owners and managers how to build a strategy from their strengths

The workshop is followed by mentoring sessions that help you achieve your goals.

Greg’s workshop offered insights into my business that led to greater strategic focus and a better understanding of client needs.

Andy Homan - Process Creative

Identify your strengths and weaknesses


This five hour face-to-face workshop shows studio owners and managers how to develop a design value proposition to sell design value.

The workshop is followed by mentoring sessions that help you achieve your goals.

Greg has a terrific understanding of running a design business and has developed a process which allows an agency to target and evolve it’s business to better meet client needs.

Mark McNamara - Echo design

Five steps to better client relationships

Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman developed the Buy-Sell Hierarchy, and explained it in their 2005 book, The New Successful Large Account Management.

I have adapted the model to help design studios assess how their clients view them as a supplier. I explain this tool in the Designing demand for your studio workshop.

You may fall into any one of the five levels depending on how closely you work with your clients:

Level 1: delivers design as  a commodity that meets specifications.

Level 2: delivers design solutions.

Level 3: delivers design and consultancy.

Level 4: uses to design to solve business issues.

Level 5: integrates design throughout the whole business.

At level 1, there's no collaboration between your studio and your clients. You provide a design/artwork service that meets a clients' basic needs, but you may be one of many suppliers. Clients may shop around to get better support and service, and to meet more strategic needs.

You can move up the hierarchy by understanding more about your clients' needs, and by doing more than your competitors to meet those needs. For example, at level 2, you provide higher quality services. At level 3, your services outperform others in the market.

By level 5, you and your clients are strategic partners: you understand their long-term needs, and you work together to meet them. Most importantly, your clients recognise that you're a key partner, and that you're indispensable to their growth. Obviously this is a the place you want to be.

The five levels in more detail

Miller and Heiman point out that it's your clients who ultimately decide which level your organisation has reached in the hierarchy. However, you can still make your own assessment of your client relationships.

Below, I outline the characteristics of each level of the hierarchy. Use these to think about your client relationships, and then apply the approaches identified to move to higher levels.

Level 1: Delivers design as a commodity that meets specifications

At level 1, your clients consider you to be one of many suppliers. Your design service meets basic specifications, and it's similar to those offered by your competitors.

There's little sense of a relationship at this level. You've likely won this account based on price or availability, which means that your position is not secure. If a competitor makes a better offer, your client will switch. You are engaged in transactional design.

Level 2: Delivers design solutions.

At the second level, your clients see you as a supplier of "good" but not "effective" design. You've understood some of their needs, you've gone an extra step to meet them, and they can see a tangible benefit to working with you because of this.

However, you can't stay at level 2 for long. Once your competitors learn about the new aspects of your service, they'll quickly follow suit. These features will then become industry standards, and, without further innovation, you'll be back at level 1.

Level 3: Delivers design and consultancy

Level 3 relationships are often based on customisation or exceptional client service. You demonstrate your commitment to your clients by investing a lot of time in your relationships, and by providing close personal attention.

However, competitors can still "up their game" and match your offering.

Level 4: Uses design to solve business Issues

The leap from level 3 to level 4 amounts to "crossing a chasm". When you have a level 4 relationship, your clients see you as an ally who helps them solve business issues, and helps them be more profitable.

To reach this level, your client must see the connection between the place of design in their success. For example, you may have worked with them to find solutions to complex problems, or helped them meet the needs of major clients.

Your clients are unlikely to want to work with more than one designer at a strategic level, so, if you can reach level 4, your competitors will no longer pose a serious threat.

Level 5: Integrates design throughout the whole business.

When you reach level 5, you've truly become your clients' partner. You work closely together to solve pressing organisational issues, and they see you as someone they can't do without. You are a design consultant rather than a designer.

At this level, you have an ironclad competitive advantage, because you provide solutions that robustly contribute to your clients' bottom line.

It is a worthwhile exercise to look at where your clients fit in this hierarchy.

The Designing demand for your studio workshop shows how to use this tool as part of building a new business model for your studio.

If you would like more information on how this workshop can help your business please call Greg Branson 0412 762 045

Greg Branson

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed a series of business tools to help designers manage their business better along with a series of workshops that show designers how to use these tools.