Why design agencies should be 'skating ahead of the puck'

50,000feet is an independent creative consultancy with offices in Chicago and New York, working across brand identity systems, strategy, interactive touchpoints, marketing communications, advertising and more.

Jim Misener

Jim Misener

President and principal Jim Misener oversees 50,000feet's strategic direction, and here, offers his advice on the top five principles that inform a successful design practice's approach.

Put happiness at the centre

To sustain meaningful and enduring growth, you must align your clients' goals with your team's desires and strengths. Put simply; you need to place the happiness of both your team and your clients at the centre. While the happiness of each may prove difficult to pinpoint, measure and align, it's important to use both as a North Star for your business. It’s from here that all your creativity and productivity radiate.

To do that, create a culture that encourages and rewards collaboration and innovation while making room for experimentation. Keep your organisational structure flat, your practices and disciplines integrated, and your collaboration platforms and tools unified to keep everyone involved throughout the journey. Aligning your clients' goals with your team's strengths creates a rich and rewarding environment.

Get your bearings

To do great work, firms must instil confidence in their employees, clients and customers. Businesses and brands must lead purposefully with the head and the heart. Get your bearings, energise and inspire your crew and point your nose onward and upward. Those who survive and thrive will do so by being buoyant, streamlined and airtight—those who know how to make the process part of the journey.

Go in search of the toughest problems, then solve them

Design firms should recognise and embrace the fact that clients more often turn to them to achieve what they themselves often can't. Some challenges require innovation; others inspire creative thinking and beautiful execution. Some are born of the nature of the problem, requiring a multidisciplinary approach across research, strategy, design, content and editorial, technology development and ongoing consulting; others arise from concerns regarding bandwidth and time constraints. 

Educate, innovate and celebrate

Despite a remote working environment, create a space for continuous learning by sharing perspectives, articles, references and resources across channels and making them the topic of conversation at frequent team meetings. Celebrate milestones and achievements, and invest in talent by continuously listening to the goals and needs of your clients and your employees. You’ll learn what benefits are most important and how company practices and policies can make their day more productive and their lives easier.

Finding stimulating work that spans your team's interests and stretches their thinking will strengthen their capabilities. Lessen the barriers between client and company teams through an open, collaborative approach to co-creation to increase learning. All of this requires you to keep your eyes on your clients’ businesses while listening to your team’s aspirations.

Respect the past, design the future

The best design practices begin through carefully studying what informs the challenge at hand. The strongest solutions arise from a nuanced understanding of the needs, motivations, aspirations, habits and behaviours of your audience.

While a strategic approach is fundamental and invaluable to any endeavour, it should inspire a process that by definition, needs to propose an original and unprecedented approach or solution. At its best, design use clues from the past to reveal the cues to the future. To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest hockey player the world has ever seen, we have to head to where the puck is going and not where it is. Design requires us to be great students and even better creators, imagining what’s possible and inventing what lies ahead.


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