• Greg Branson
  • How to design your business
  • In an increasingly competitive environment, many design studios struggle to define their difference and value to clients. Here, Greg Branson offers his expert advice on how to approach this significant challenge.

Just like clients, every design business needs the same care and attention to its business management. While that’s a simple statement, it’s actually very hard to put into practice for most design studios—just as it is for every business. After all, that’s why clients come to a design studio to get their brand defined and designed.

So where does a design studio start the design their business?

The first task is to define your ‘onlyness’. Nilofer Merchant coined this phrase and describes it this way;

“power is no longer determined by your status, but by “onlyness”—that spot in the world only you stand in, a function of your distinct history and experiences, visions and hopes.”

Think about it. If you look at the collective experience in your studio, add their collective histories, then their collective visions and hopes, you have a unique set of talents that no one else has.

If you look at the collective experience in your studio, add their collective histories, then their collective visions and hopes, you have a unique set of talents that no one else has.

So, the task is to define your onlyness. But how does a studio do this? It can be achieved by using a profile form that each team member completes. This shows their history (where they studied, worked and travelled). It then asks them to define the most meaningful experience they had in each stage of their history. Then they are asked to describe how this has shaped their vision and hopes for the future.

The final stage is to ask how they would have applied this thinking to some of the work they have previously done in the studio or how they would have approached clients. It’s also asks them to define the culture of the studio. 

From all of this you set a direction for the studio: What type of work you want to do; Which clients best match that direction; etc. The end of this process has everyone buying into the growth of the business, making it much easier for everyone to manage clients and projects.

The take away: Having mastered this method you can use it as a consultancy service to help your clients identify their onlyness.



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

With Carol Mackay he established Mackay Branson design in 1984. They built the practice up to employ 11 designers with clients in government, insurance, hardware and pharmaceutical sectors. Underpinning this growth was the development of systems and methods that managed the design process. Greg was responsible for new business development using skills developed in marketing agencies in Melbourne and Sydney.

Greg has long been involved in the Australian design community with a two year term as President of the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA) Victoria and a national councillor for AGDA.

In 2005 he founded the Design Business Council (DBC) to provide design management professional development for designers and design clients.

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. The workshops are written for studio owners, managers and account executives in graphic, product, interior and architectural design studios.

Greg has traveled in Europe, the USA and UK to research the role of design in business. He is a member of the US based Design Management Institute (DMI) an organisation that conducts extensive research into design management, design practice, design strategy, design thinking and design effectiveness.

He developed a series of workshops for presentation to SMEs within Melbourne’s South Eastern Business Network. These workshops showed how design management, design strategy and design thinking can aid an SME.  They are based on real projects undertaken by Greg.

In 2013 Greg wrote and produced The business of design a book that details the what, why and how of running an Australian design business. Written entirely from a local perspective, this is the only Australian book to span all the business skills needed to start, manage and grow a design studio.

Greg is active on a range of curriculum committees, at VCE, TAFE and University level having served five years as Chair of the industry advisory committee for the Communication Design at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University.

He also delivers regular lectures to undergraduate and post graduate design students and academic staff at Australian Universities.