Design studio management

How to lead a design team, manage clients, survive deadlines and live to tell the story.

Managing a design studio can be like being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Managing ‘up’ to studio owners and ‘down’ to the design team.
Needing skills you didn’t know existed and were never taught.

This is a program for designers who want to move to studio management.
It’s written for people inside and outside the design industry wanting to fast track their move to management.


Name: Design Studio Management Program

Vision: Build robust management skills to deliver sustainable creative businesses

Market: Designers wanting to fast-track their move to management, non-designers wanting a career-shift

Resources: Online readings, PDF factsheets/activity worksheets, The Business of Design publication, skype/email mentoring, industry contacts.

Commitment: Flexible, expect approx 10 weeks allowing an hour per day


Managing creatives is not for the faint hearted. It’s a tough gig and learning ‘on the job’ can prove slow and hazardous. This program delivers the skills, tools and resources to help you successfully negotiate the management path.

The Design Studio Management Program is flexible: study full or part time, online, in your time, at your own speed. But you’re not alone: at the end of each unit mentoring is available to ensure you’ve got what you need to succeed.

The content is based on industry-insights: real, practical activities based on 30 years experience managing an Australian design studio. Carol Mackay and Greg Branson design business coaches and mentors bring thier experience to this program. But it’s not just our story, at the end of each unit, practising design studio managers share their experiences.


This unit explores the shape and size of the Australian design industry. Understanding your industry helps build awareness of where you, and your studio fit. You’ll build on that knowledge in a later unit to identify your ‘onlyness’.

We define the career of ‘design management’ and the variety of roles a design manager can do in the Australian design industry.

Finally, we interview the studio manager of one of a Melbourne’s leading design studios.

A traditional design studio is structured like a family tree, but research shows that’s not the only way. This unit discusses the alternative ways designers can collaborate.

The Business model canvas methodology is explained and why it’s a valuable tool for any design studio manager to know.

An activity shows how to analyse your skills, the skills of others, and those needed to run a successful studio. We talk life-long learning, and how to use professional development to fill any gaps in your skillbase.

The interview is with a studio manager with an impressive international CV. She currently works in one of Melbourne’s leading design studios.

We can all learn computer programs, what separates a great studio manager is human skills. The ability to communicate well, build teams and report up and down. That’s the focus of this unit.

 We research creatives and how they work.

We detail what makes a good job description and why they’re worth their weight in gold when the s%*t hits the fan. We examine negotiation skills, and the perils and pitfalls of hiring and firing.

The unit covers management techniques: how to manage up, and how to manage down.

The interview is with the ex-General Manager of a global packaging company.

This unit identifies and assess different studio workflows. What works and what doesn’t.

We talk delegation and the responsibility of handover, and why it’s important to do it well. We outline the pros and cons of different studio management software and how technology can help us work smarter not harder.

We’ve researched different takes on the traditional WIP ‘catch-up’ and it’s role in managing implementation and deliverables.

Finally, we interview the studio manager not afraid of a challenge. He works at one of Australia’s largest publishing houses.

This unit talks all things client: how to hold on to the good ones and run from others.

We identify communication skills needed to get a good brief from even the most reticent client, and talk new business development: what role the design studio manager has in helping a studio grow.

The interview is with a client. She is a strategist working in a management position at one of Australia’s leading universities.

The ability to identify your competitors and peers is invaluable. We build on the knowledge gained in the first unit to analyse a studio’s competitive advantage: what sets you apart from others.

The interview is with the General Manager of one of Australia’s leading service design studios.

Hourly cost rates are the backbone of a studio. This unit covers all things financial: how (and why) to bill by value rather than hours.

We outline in detail, the ins and outs of job costing/estimating and setting budgets.

The interview is with a financial-whizz. A banker, turned General Manager for two Melbourne design studio’s and now a Financial CEO for hire. His insights are invaluable.

Program content is delivered online via

  • introductory readings,
  • worksheets,
  • 43 factsheets
  • video
  • a free copy of the Business of Design – a book outlining the what, why and how of running an Australian design business.

The seven units are each supported by an interview with practising Australian design studio manager.

Each unit culminates with an activity students uploaded for comment from Carol and/or Greg.

Want more information?

Easy, email Carol.

Need to know more?

Want to know how the Design Business School programs will help you improve your studio performance?

Call Greg 0412 762 045


This is a self paced course, you can study full or part-time, in your own time, at your own speed.

It’s approximately a 10 week online program presented over 9 videos and 43 factsheets.

Each unit is presented in print and video and supported by an interview with a practising designer.

Activities are supported by a wealth of further readings and resources.

Like to hear more? Let’s talk.

“This is the program I needed when I started my career. I learnt on the job, and trust me when I say it was slow and at times, painful. This is a program of practical skills a design studio manager can use everyday. It’s your chance to learn from my mistakes :)”

Carol Mackay. co-writer, Design Studio Management Program.


Solopreneurs wanting to grow their business by hiring designers

Designers wanting to move into management positions

Design managers needing more skills to manage creatives

Client service managers needing more skills to manage creatives

Designers wanting to improve their knowledge of business

Business owners wanting to understand what they can expect from a studio manager

Studio managers whose skills are limited to past jobs

Recent design graduates wanting to add skills to increase their employment options

Non designers wanting a career-shift and industry contacts

Does that sound like you? Let’s talk

Not ready to commit to the Design Studio Management program just yet?

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