Building a Purpose-drive Practice
When analyzing the shortcomings of a design firm’s business model, I often see parallels between designers and artists. In many cases, we tend to undervalue our services to ensure that we are still able to create our craft, or complete the project. However, doing so often makes us lose our sense of purpose. So how do we bring purpose back to the design workforce? Or, more importantly, how are firms going to become exemplary in a new, purpose-filled economy?
Build a practice focused on people
In his book “The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth and Community Is Changing the World,” author Aaron Hurst writes: “During the week, most of us spend at least 50 percent of our waking time at work. If we aren’t getting our need for purpose met here, we are unlikely to have satisfying levels of purpose in our overall lives.” For you as an individual, it is always important to remember the reason why you entered the design profession, why you joined a particular firm, or why you started your design firm. Do those aspects still hold true for you today in your given position? What changes would have to be made within your current company to match your original motivation for joining or starting it, or to instill greater purpose generally?
Bringing purpose into a firm drives innovation and encourages participation from employees. Creating room for purpose, along with the freedom of expression, engages the greatest number of individuals within a firm with the design process. The more individuals in the office feel like they have room to grow in a manner that is meaningful to themselves, the more they will be encouraged to be engaged in the firm’s future and ultimately its success.
Build a practice that engages community
By definition, community is a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of common attitudes, interests, and goals. Pairing community with a sense of purpose focuses not only on the neighborhood in which the firm’s physical office resides or the community that the firm builds within its own walls, but it also focuses on the type of community that the firm builds with its clients. The current state of the industry is ripe with opportunity, so I encourage firms to be selective about the types of clients and work they pursue.
Within the purpose economy, our clients are looking for ways to both make their processes more transparent and to further their own engagement within the communities they serve. As designers, our understanding of the end users and their true needs becomes more important to the success of the design and implementation. Encourage your clients to give you access to all of the stakeholders necessary to make the process a success, and show them how it will further create purpose within their own organizations.
Build a practice that is adaptable to change
The ability to adapt to change is becoming more necessary to the success of any industry. But that is particularly true in our design industry, which continues to specialize its expertise and commoditize the services it offers. Designers must be aware of changes in the economy that can have significant impact on a client’s business and the decisions it makes about processes, operations, and managing capital asset spending. Understanding the client’s line of business will enable greater opportunity for a designer to articulate the value of the design services provided. Doing so will help you identify opportunities to increase your value to a client in a way that is purposeful to the organization’s greater mission and vision for the future.
A firm built on purpose is one that places equal emphasis on having a positive impact on its own employees, the clients, and the communities it serves, as well as the prosperity of the practice itself. “In an organization that prizes purpose,” Hurst writes, “management is held to a higher standard.” All individuals in a firm—not only management—must be held to a higher standard and continue to push past boundaries and comfort levels. But, with higher purpose often comes greater rewards.