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MANAGE YOUR STUDIO

Studio management rarely gets a mention when graphic design is discussed, but for many studios it might just make the difference between success and failure. So what can you do to ensure you’re working at maximum efficiency? Adrian Shaughnessy, co-founder of design groups Intro and This is Real Art, provides ten top tips. POSTER DESIGNED BY LUKE O’NEILL

he role of the studio manager is crucial to the efficient running of a design business. But usually it’s only the big design companies that can afford to pay for such services. Yet all studios – even small ones – need management. This means that most designers have to do their own, just as they have to do their own book-keeping, IT

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consultancy and print buying. But by investing in a good studio manager, designers can increase efficiency and productivity, make the working day more enjoyable for everyone and, last but not least, boost profitability. The key to getting the most out of studio management is to remember that as a designer you’re in the service sector. Don’t think of studio management as an irksome

in-house overhead. Think of it as key factor in the way you look after your clients. Viewed like this, studio management (and project management) becomes a way of boosting your income. So it pays to employ someone in this role, and it pays to employ someone good. But what exactly is the role of the studio manager? READ ON TO FIND OUT ››

WHAT DOES A STUDIO MANAGER DO?
Put simply, a studio manager in a small design studio (ten to 20 people) deals with all non-design matters, leaving designers free to design. A good studio manager might be required to change light bulbs one day and negotiate fees with the studio’s biggest client the next. Studio management used to be about keeping materials such as pens and layout pads in stock, and dealing with printers. Today, a studio manager needs many skills: IT knowledge; the ability to co-ordinate multimedia projects; the know-how to monitor work; basic financial skills and experience commissioning and controlling external suppliers. It also helps if they’re likeable individuals.

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WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STUDIO MANAGEMENT AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT?
In the ideal studio, each person has one job only: designers design; account handlers account handle; and financial people, er, chase late payers. But life in a small studio means that we all have to multi-task, which is why it’s good to combine the roles of studio manager and project manager. In small studios, the two jobs are interchangeable. Project managers look after the production of jobs, budgeting and scheduling and, in most cases, client handling. While studio managers oversee the administrative and technical organisation of a studio. Put these roles together and, with the addition of one extra person, you’ve got the potential to move your studio up a few gears.

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STUDIO MANAGEMENT AND CLIENTS
The secret of a successful studio is to make everyone client facing. In other words, expose everyone in the studio to clients. If studio personnel know that everything they do has an impact on the studio’s clients, they tend do their jobs better. This is especially relevant in the case of studio managers and production people, who are usually internal looking. The successful ones know that if they can combine good internal skills with good client skills, they have a winning combination. Every decision needs to be assessed by two criteria: does it improve internal working and does it improve the way we service clients? If the answer is yes to both questions, then it’s the right move.

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INTERNAL ROLES
There used to be a view that studio managers had to be bossy individuals. This view is redundant. Today, a good studio manager requires production and project management skills, sophisticated and sympathetic communication skills, and ruthless efficiency backed up by 360-degree vision. The modern studio manager’s remit includes any or all of the following: work scheduling; budgeting; profitability reporting; invoicing; ensuring IT capabilities; booking freelancers; managing timesheets; and, most important of all, keeping accurate records. But none of these can be accomplished effectively without a co-operative and sympathetic attitude.

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EXTERNAL ROLES
No studio manager is worth employing if he or she can’t combine an internal co-ordination role with an ability to deal with outsiders – clients, suppliers and freelancers all need to be treated with tact and professionalism. In an ideal world, clients talk to designers about design and to studio managers about non-design matters. But clients always talk to whoever gives them the information they want. So if a studio manager (or project manager) has poor communication skills, clients will avoid talking to them and speak to one of the principals or one of the designers, thus reducing the value of a dedicated studio manager. The same applies to suppliers and freelancers.

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FINANCE
It’s imperative that studio managers have a basic grasp of finance. They need to know how to cost a job, supply a quote, negotiate a fee, alert clients to extra charges, prepare invoices, monitor costs during the life of a project, alert studio owners to problems and negotiate fees with external suppliers (printers, web programmers, editing houses, paper manufacturers, stationery providers, and so on). It helps if they can also send out invoices. In bigger studios, some of this work is undertaken by staff specifically employed to deal with the financial side of things, but in most small studios financial duties are carried out by the partners or by studio managers.

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MULTIMEDIA
Have you ever wondered why web projects always overrun and come in over budget? This has much to do with the open-ended nature of digital communications: when a document is printed – that’s it. Finito. But with a website, you can go on tinkering with it forever. Clients know this, and many take advantage of the fact. And it’s because of this that studio management has acquired a new level of importance. Web-based projects (and broadcast or installation-based assignments) require high levels of management control. Even a small website requires reams of paperwork and accurate reporting. A good project manager will be able to control this design and build process.

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NEW BUSINESS ROLE
When I ran a studio I used to remind everyone that they had a ‘new business’ role. By this I simply meant that every conversation had a bearing on whether clients returned to us. A good example of how a studio manager can help generate new business is when my studio was working on a large print project. The task was nearing completion when our client mentioned that they hadn’t yet organised distribution of the printed item. Our sharp-eared project manager said: “Would you like me to get you a quote for this?” A few days later our client asked us to undertake the UK distribution and sent us a purchase order for £87,000. Now that’s what I call good management!

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FRONT OF HOUSE AND STUDIO ENVIRONMENT
The impression clients get when they arrive at your studio, and the care and maintenance of a good working environment, is vital. There is a widespread belief that design studios have to be sexy, high-design statements. Not so. Good clients are rarely impressed with showy offices; they want to see where you really work. Yet they also don’t want to see chaos and scruffiness – if you can’t manage to keep your reception area tidy or if you can’t offer visitors a cup of coffee in a clean mug, you’ll struggle to attract good clients. So, give the responsibility for the look of your studio to a studio manager and turn your working environment into a place people enjoy working in.

Ó TEN REASONS TO...

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NON-DESIGNERS AREN’T WEIRDOS

Designers are notoriously reluctant to employ non-designers. It took me a long time to get over my prejudice but once I did and employed my first studio-cum-project manager, my company took off and we increased both our turnover and the quality of our work. But how do you evaluate the success or failure of a studio manager? Firstly, by the degree to which they free up designers to design. Secondly, within a few months, you should notice your profitability improving. If you don’t (and make sure you give it enough time) you’ve got the wrong person, or you’re not managing them properly. A good studio manager should pay for himself or herself ten times over.

LINKS

D&AD
www.dandad.org Charity setting creative standards for design and advertising with strong emphasis on education. The D&AD website contains details of professional development courses, discussions, debates, lectures, workshops and, of course, the famous D&AD awards scheme.

CREATIVE LATITUDE
www.creativelatitude.com Helpful community-based site run entirely by volunteers that unites various creative disciplines for collective promotion, education and ethical business practice. Contains many useful articles on business management and creative issues.A

SPEAK UP
www.underconsideration. com/speakup Lively forum dealing with all aspects of graphic design. Its aim is to create: “A stronger and clearer sense of what our role is as professionals endowed with the duty of creating social, cultural, political and/or economical communications.”

AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF GRAPHIC ARTS
www.aiga.org The USA’s professional design organisation is committed to promotion of excellence in graphic design. Its informative website covers professional and ethical issues. It mainly focuses on US issues, but contains much that is relevant to the British scene too.

HOW MAGAZINE
www.howdesign.com

How is a leading US design
magazine with strong emphasis on business advice, promoting creativity and recommending tools. The website is a portal to the magazine, and offers articles, features and tips. There are also helpful book reviews and an email update service.

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