Stories about a future worth creating

Updated: Adding Tobias van Schneider’s The Agency is Dead, Long Live the Agency and Ben Cline’s Design Studios are Not Going Away to list of 

The conversation around the shutting down of TeehanLax has been very interesting and insightful. For me, it has really shown the dominance of the venture fundable, highly scalable startup narrative in relation to technology, design and the human condition.

I have been focused on this narrative. We can call it venture fundable, we can call it scalable businesses, it doesn’t matter what we call it. Being able to build a company with 32 engineers that can surpass an entire industry is seductive. It is the American dream. Anyone can build a company with the scale, wealth and impact of The Social Network. It has dominated the conversation.

But is it the narrative that will allow us to tell stories about “a future worth creating“?

I remember the moment in 1995 where my role models changed. My role models had always been designers and commentators. People like Bill Moggridge, Don Norman, David Kelley, Brenda Laurel, Bill Buxton, John Seeley BrownNathan Shredoff,Lucy SuchmanHerb Simon, Stu Card, Abigail Sellen, Paul Dourish and others. (BTW this list is by no means complete). Designers of experiences and the explainers of behaviour. The moment was the Netscape IPO. It started to shift to David Liddle, Kelly Johnson, Ben Rich and the people that started the research labs and product development groups as companies. Then I was introduced to C. Gordon Bell’s High-tech Ventures: The Guide For Entrepreneurial Success. This was the first time I had read about venture capital and the types of company that can be built. It was eBoys: The First Inside Account of Venture Capitalists at Work about Benchmark that solidified it. I wanted to be a venture capitalist. It was the thoughtfulness, the wealth, the prestige and impact of this group of investors. It was Jim Breyer, Vinod Khosla, Mike Moritz and others. Because the story about new technology, new wealth creation and the ability to change the human condition were compelling. These were companies that affected my own behaviour. And it is still true today, I find myself reading David Skok, Mark Suster, Bill Gurley, Marc Andreessen, Mike Maples, Boris Wertz, Tomasz Tunguz, Reid Hoffman, John Lilly and others.

But is it the narrative that will allow us to tell stories about “a future worth creating“.

The Future of Design Agencies

“The future of design agencies lies not in their ability to become more like their in-house counterparts, but their ability to become more unique. They need to see, speak, and act differently. Their value lies in their ability to describe the changes they see in the world with new language. This, in turn, makes it possible for people to imagine the future differently from the present.” – Matthew Milan

I have not worked agency side in a long time. My only thoughts have been about the economics of scaling a linear business, and this is probably an artifact from a venture fundable view of the world (also see Jon Lax’s talk Let’s Kill the Billable Hour). It is time to start thinking about different narratives. It is  time to look to a new group building new models for inspiration.

I’m looking forward to spending more time listening and learning about different models for impactful businesses. What are the businesses and business models that inspire and intrigue you?

Feature Image – Photo credit Guigui-Lille

Teehan+Lax – Senior UI Designer

Toronto, ON

Teehan+Lax is currently reviewing portfolios of qualified Senior UI Designers who will research, architect, and design interactive experiences for web, software and device-based interfaces. We are looking for someone who is passionate about creating experiences that delight end-users and drive business goals: someone who shares our belief that designing great user experiences is as much about evoking an emotional response as it is about providing users with a means to an end. Candidates must be able to show examples of how they solved complicated problems without burdening users with complexity.

Qualifications

  • At least 5 years professional interactive design experience.
  • College or University Graduate in a related discipline (interaction or information design, HCI, computer science, behavioural sciences, etc.)
  • Strong knowledge and experience in Information Architecture.
  • Ability to perform visual design a bonus
  • Strong leadership and people management skills.
  • Proven ability to mentor and develop skills in all levels of designers.
  • Excellent interpersonal and presentation skills, including the ability to communicate effectively in small and large groups at all levels of a client organization.
  • Must live, or be willing to commute to Toronto.

Creative

  • Responsible for the developing of underlying content and functional architecture, navigation systems, interface elements, information design, and screen layouts for Web sites and other interactive applications.
  • Able to perform systematic analysis (i.e. task flow, workflow, technological and organizational implications) and validation (prototyping, user and A/B/multivariate testing).
  • Able to explore and document design decisions in a variety of modes, from high-level sketches to boxes-and-arrows flow diagrams to detailed wireframes.
  • Proficiency with drawing and graphing applications, HTML, interactive prototyping tools.

Management

  • Provide leadership throughout project discovery, Information Architecture, visual concept development and front-end development.
  • Help manage day-to-day operations, including setting priorities, assigning resources and ensuring project goals are achieved.
  • Oversee simultaneous projects from inception to completion, reviewing project plans, designs and deliverables.
  • Identify and implement process improvements to meet project and team needs.

Client

  • Work with Partners and Associates to ensure they are reacting appropriately to the strategic, logistic and creative needs of the client.
  • Participate in the creative role of new business pitches, proposal development and project initiation.
  • Work closely with clients through a consultative, participatory approach. Establish and nurture good client working relationships.

Team

  • Oversee the creative output of your team.
  • Monitor and drive an ideal balance in the available skills and personality of the team towards the needs of our customers.
  • Monitor and drive the team to utilize the best and latest methods and tools to be competitive.
  • Help develop the culture and mindset of the team to ensure they are healthy, happy, inventive, curious, and open.
  • Mentor the careers of your direct reports.
  • Promote a culture of innovation and teamwork.

What’s different about working at Teehan+Lax

We focus exclusively on front end user experience design for the digital channel. There are no back-end build teams, no offline divisions. Everyone you’ll be working with desires to create best in breed user experiences. In fact, 90% of the staff here hold creative positions. That means no Account Managers, no Managing Directors, no Business Analysts. We maintain very little hierarchy. There are two roles at Teehan+Lax: Partners and Associates. The people with the right skills are put on the right projects. We’re small and nimble. There are no pitch teams, no “B” teams. All of our staff work directly with our clients, so if a client has a question that relates to IA they’ll speak to the Associate or Partner who worked on it – not an account manager.

How to apply

If you’re talented, smart, hard-working and dedicated, we’ll enable you to do the best work of your career. Send us a resume and portfolio of your work to “jobs [at] teehanlax [dot] com”. Suitable candidates will be contacted promptly. Please no phone calls.