Mark Hurrell.


The strategy is consultancy

20 June 2018

The move of business consultancies into the agency territory is puzzling. There is not much money to be made in the agency region anymore. Big companies have their own, very talented tech teams, now. There are fewer and fewer mandates. They should know that.

The reason why agencies offer consulting services is hardly that they have an 'inferiority complex' because of McKinsey & Co. Consulting internal teams is what we are more and more asked to do. Insight into various design projects may be an agency's main capital these days.

From what we have seen, IBM, McKinsey, Boston and others may be able to pretend that they do 'design thinking'. That's close enough to consulting. When it comes to implementing technology we have seen them miserably fail, and often in the most shameful ways.

Tech mandates are still the juicy ones. You can buy a stack of PostIts and bullshit your way into some touch me feel me design thinking nonsense, but when in plus you lack the experience and culture to do good tech, you get into very hot water.

Serious human centered design is hard. Few design agencies able to offer complex tech on the same level. You can harp about 'designers need to code' and 'everybody is a designer' as much as you want—great professionals are passionate, and passion is rarely found in consultancies.

Passion may very well be detrimental to consulting. It may as well be detrimental to being economically successful. If you want to be economically successful you do not aim at being the ElBulli of design. You try to find the sweet spot between ElBulli and McDonald's.

Working at design agencies might look glorious, but when we talk to candidates that worked at some of the most prestigious agencies we're baffled how low their salaries are. Interaction designer at one of the currently 100 best design agencies worldwide: 15,000 pounds yearly—in LONDON!

How do you live on 15,000 pounds in London? The reason why those salaries are so low is not just that the bosses are blood sucking vampires. They simply cannot pay people fairly and they get away with such salaries because too many juniors need the 'I worked at' credentials.

What happened is that consultants told corporations 6-7 years ago that they can fire 10 regular employees for every 'digital' person they hire. After that they realized that those corporations now need tech consulting, so they bought design and tech agencies.

Contemporary companies need business management, design, and technology to play together like an orchestra. But each discipline has become so complex in itself that unifying them under one roof only works on the client, not on the agency side.

And finally, one of the core problems contemporary design agencies are facing is that our business model was based on the way ad agency operate. The pitches, mandates, prices, fame, creative, hierarchy, funky offices… All of this is incompatible with how tech works these days.

Oliver Reichenstein on Twitter

On the one hand, I’m a designer. I really don’t want to have to care about this stuff.

But on the other hand, it’s good to know what the bullshit employers look like. Used to be easy when everything was ad agencies. This is a pretty good starting point learning to read this industry in twenty eighteen.

If you want to chat more about stuff like this, send me an email or get in touch on Twitter.