The design business tips, thoughts and advice you needed this year

From navigating difficult client conversations to accessibility and sustainability, we look back on the best nuggets of wisdom Design Week offered over the last 12 months.


PlasticFree, designed by Made Thought

How can designers be less reliant on plastic in their practice?

The PlasticFree directory was launched in January this year, with designs by Made Thought. The directory provides a list of more than 100 plastic-free materials and system solutions which can be categorised by their properties and used to inform design and business decisions.

Following up the news of the directory, designers from Pearlfisher, SmilePlastics, the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Mather & Co., Nissen Richards and more offered their advice on how the industry can change its relationship with plastic 

“We should always be thinking ‘what are the alternatives?’” said Morrama founder and creative director Jo Barnard. “It’s easy to jump to conclusions when designing, doing something the way it has always been or because it’s the simplest solution. This is inevitably why we fall back on using plastic; it’s such an incredibly versatile material and it’s not always clear what other options there are.

“This change isn’t going to happen overnight, and it’s likely that for some projects there won’t be a plastic free answer right now. But we should never stop challenging ourselves to find one,” she continued.

“AI revolution” means design studios could look very different in three years

As AI begins to change the way designers work, Design Bridge executive director of experience design Tom Gilbert levels on what the design consultancy of the near future will look like.

The AI space shifts incredibly quickly, with huge developments over  the past 12 months alone: where AI hands ‘accepting the job‘ were once multi-wristed mutants, they’re now perfectly passable appendages, for instance.

Ultimately, Gilbert concluded, “one thing we can be certain of is that the design industry is constantly evolving and it’s our job as designers to stay ahead of the curve. By embracing technology, restructuring our perception of the studio, focusing on strategy and original ideas, fostering creative tech teams, and measuring our impact, we can ensure that the design industry remains at the forefront and continues to make a positive impact on the world”.

How can the industry best-support female design leaders?

Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that 121,205 women studied design and creative subjects at university level in 2021/2022 compared with 67,275 men. This has been the case for many years, yet there are fewer female design leaders than men.

Ahead of International Women’s Day this year, we asked senior female designers from FutureBrand, Superunion, True North, and more how the industry can help more women take on and retain leadership roles industry wide.

That same month, we also explored industry inequality further, reporting on design leaders’ stance that If the design industry is to avoid “marching towards obsolescence” it must create and embrace real change.

Studio Up North’s team, including Gabi Duxbury, centre

Making a case for neurodiversity in design

We spoke to neurodivergent designers and inclusivity experts about how workplaces can improve to both be more accommodating to people diagnosed with things like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and Tourette’s syndrome; and to embrace such conditions and make the most of the unique perspectives they offer.

Practical considerations outlined in the piece included giving team members control of the music and playlist in the studio; and having a desk in the corner of the room facing outwards to reduce anxiety.

Consulting everyone in the team on decisions that affect the environment, such as new lamps, was also advised; but above all, designers recommended a laid-back, open culture.

“I never feel like any of the things I struggle with are an issue”, said Gabi Duxbury, designer at Lancashire-based branding agency, Studio Up North. “I’m never embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about it, it’s just normalised”.

Junior designers are being overlooked, so what can be done about it?

In February, recruitment data has revealed that design consultancies were hesitant to hire junior talent in 2022. Instead, they were opting for more experienced workers who are seen to require less guidance and training.

With this in mind we asked designers how they felt about this trend, exploring why consultancies might be making those decisions when hiring talent. We also underscored the benefits for design studios of having more junior designers on the team.

Illustration by Ben Tallon

What to do if you lose your creative mojo?

For his series on what it means to be creative, illustrator and author Ben Tallon considers how feeling stuck may be down to prioritising one type of creativity at the expense of another. 

“So much of creativity is about duality and balance. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of commercial brief parameters,” he wrote. “My favourite career work has been the stuff that requires equal parts emotional (for me) and intellectual creativity (for a client and their audience). That’s been the case for most of my projects because I saw the need to use my portfolio as a statement of intent as well as a showcase of what I’ve done and can do. That intent brought work that afforded me self-expression.

“During my busy client work spells, I get angry with myself for piling the purely emotional side projects high, but I’ve come to find that  if we don’t take care of the emotional part of our creativity, we surrender something crucial, and the thing that filled our hearts with joy becomes merely a job that we don’t love like we once did.”

How do you navigate difficult conversations with clients?

We asked designers how they decide when to say no to a client and when is the right time to walk away.

“There are lots of reasons why we would choose not to work on a project. Red flags for us would be if the brief, objectives and measures of success are not clear from the outset, or if they are changed during the project without the client taking responsibility and adjusting the scope of work accordingly,” said Vault49 co-founder and executive creative director John Glasgow.

We also won’t take on a project if an unpaid (or poorly paid) pitch is requested, or if we don’t have access to decision-makers.”

How design can help FMCG become circular

Reckitt global head of brand experience and design, Jos Harrison, spoke to us about how FMCG brands can tap into design skillsets to move on from the damaging “consumption mindset” the industry helped create.

“All designers effectively live in the future. They’re always establishing a clarity on what that future looks like and trying to bring it forward to the present day”, Harrison told us. This is particularly important for FMCG, he said, as its products “have to be planned and then produced years in advance of actually being used”.

Harrison, who first trained as an industrial and product designer, argued that designers are also well-suited to tackle “the sheer complexity” of the parts that need to be considered.

“I think particularly industrial designers and design strategists tend to have that mindset of managing complexity, combining lots of contextually relevant inputs and synthesizing that information into a way forward,” he said.

Understanding Accessibility site on mobile

New platform launches to help web designers navigate accessibility guidelines

Designer Alaïs de Saint Louvent, supported by Edinburgh-based design consultancy Studio Lutalica and web design studio Lattimore + Friends,  developed a free website, Understanding Accessibility, in a bid to demystify the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

The website is intended to offer web designers and developers clear instructions to make websites accessible for as many people as possible, with a simple step-by-step guide to help them design for disabilities. 

A 2023 WebAIM report found that that 49,991,225 distinct accessibility errors were detected across one million website home pages, with an average of 50.0 errors per page.

How can the industry make design careers seem more accessible?

A Ravensbourne University study revealed a high demand among 18-25-year-olds to pursue creative careers, but many perceived them to be unattainable. We asked people from across the design industry how we might be able to remedy this.

“As a creative sector we don’t engage with secondary education who lack understanding of the myriad of opportunities across the creative industry,” said Taxi Studio designer and culture ambassador Liv Beresford-Evans. “We must take the initiative to educate young people about the diverse aspects of creative businesses, from design and client relations to strategy and administration. You don’t have to be the next Picasso.”

Meanwhile DesignStudio executive creative director Vinay Mistry argued that we need to be engaging with young people, teachers and mentors “much further upstream; sharing the rich and exciting opportunities the industry offers well before they start making decisions about further education or training.”

He continued, “The industry also needs to be much more transparent about the range of opportunities available. Too often all you see is the highlights, the polished showreels, the finished work for big brands. Instead we can help people understand just how many different options the creative industries offer by showcasing the full process and the range of experts that contribute to different projects.”


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