At what stage should I engage a design consultancy?

As part of our mini-series on hiring a design consultant, Tze shares the different junctures at which design intervention can come in, and how that differs with the characteristics of your own organisation.

Summary

  • When hiring an external design team, it firstly depends on whether your own organisation has an internal design or innovation team
  • If your organisation does have an internal design team, a lot of design processes can be internalised, and “you don’t really have to work with an external until you’ve identified a very clear brief to act on”
  • If your organisation does not have an internal design team, the design process can be a means of
    a) Finding opportunities
    b) Reducing risk when design is employed early on to identify crucial information needed to get the product into the market quicker
  • An external design team can be valuable to organisations with internal design teams when
    a) Internal teams don’t have the resources to spend on external projects, and the organisation is simply looking for additional hands
    b) Organisations are missing parts of the disciplines or skill sets that the external team can help to augment

Full Transcript

How soon does design need to come in? Because if it’s a challenge which can be resolved with an off-the-shelf product then you don’t really need a design team.

DESIREE
As a new client who’s looking at design consultancies for the first time, at what juncture do you think I should be looking into hiring a design consultancy?

TZE
It depends on the type of organisation. If you have an internal design team or innovation team then a lot of that process can be internalised, so you don’t really have to work with an external until you’ve identified a very clear brief to act on. Then I think at that point it makes sense to bring on an external consultant.

On the flip side, if your organisation doesn’t have an internal innovation team or design team, the design process somewhat is two things right; a means of finding opportunities; it also serves as a means of reducing risk because the earlier on you can identify what it is you want to design, how it is it needs to be, what it means for the consumer, the faster you can get to market. Those two things need to be weighed at the point that you want to bring in external support.

Do you really have the means to find and identify market opportunities within the product or service that you want to launch? If not, bringing in design team at early stage actually saves you all that pain and hassle.

Conversely, you know, if that’s something that you can do really well internally, the next stage which is the realisation stage, how soon does design need to come in? Because if it’s a challenge which can be resolved with an off-the-shelf product or something that you can do as a proof-of-concept internally, then you don’t really need a design team. That’s something that your own team can realise, the caveat being that the sooner that design is involved, some of the processes which are about aligning what consumers want, what you can produce, the technologies to get there, business alignment, those are things that get considered earlier on.

DESIREE
Do you think if, say as a company, even if I do have an internal design team, do you think it’s still valuable in engaging an external design consultancy to either supplement or to just do a completely separate study, for example?

TZE
That’s a tough one. I think it depends on what are your core capabilities of your internal design team and also how much they’re resourced. I think two scenarios that we made up is working with design teams which are very adept at working and so much so that they don’t have resources to spend on external projects and in those cases, the clients are more looking for additional hands for the task. We find that these clients already know what they want and they also know what format of deliverable they want it in.

For us, the more interesting work is where clients don’t have or are missing parts of the capability which are sometimes lacking because of the industries they’re in, because they’re focused on a particular industry, for example consumer electronics, and learnings from medical industry or adjacent industries would be very useful for the team.

Or alternatively they have missing parts of disciplines or skill sets within the creative team that we can then come in and augment. So this means that we can get in early on the process, we can also work from a more strategic standpoint and that’s more exciting for both parties.

THE STUCK IN DESIGN TEAM
Desiree Lim, Kevin Yeo, Matthew Wong

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