Agency: An organisation that offers a particular kind of assistance on behalf of another business, person, or group.

Ben White
Ben White
25th January 2018

Whilst there are many different definitions of agency, in the context of the design industry this is one of the simplest and most appropriate to describe what it is that agencies actually do. Historically, they offer specialisms and skills that help their clients in some way - these can take years to master and by employing groups of people with these skills agencies are able to offer services that can take their clients a long time to develop internally.

But over the last few years there has been a paradigm shift in how these agency clients (let’s call them organisations) work and are structured. We’re all aware of the productisation that has become so prevalent in today’s organisations - in-house design and development teams are now the norm, with those previously out-sourced specialisms and skills being brought under the one roof to help build much more rounded and cross-functional departments, capable of delivering continually improving product visions and services.

This all makes great business sense and many organisations - indeed the design industry itself - have flourished from the successes of this shift - longterm investment in people and skills focussed solely on specific organisational needs seems ideal. But if this move to in-house is so successful, where does this leave the agency, and why is it that we as an agency are still working with so many of these organisations even after they have spent time and resources building up their own specialised departments?

We all need a little help from time to time

Many of the organisations we talk to and work with have a broad range of well-developed skills across their teams - their employees have spent years in agencies, product teams and organisations with similar challenges, and in short, they know their stuff. Capability certainly isn’t an issue - in fact many of these organisations have strong teams working with well-formed backlogs, continually improving their products and services. But this is often where we find that we as an agency can help - when work load and business as usual is strong and steady, finding the time, thought-space and drive to tackle problems, innovate or even take a step back to assess more often than not gets pushed to the bottom of that backlog.

Because we often operate outside the constraints of business as usual, it enables us to work in a space that can offer a fresh perspective on business as usual, or dedicate effort in a given area. Being afforded the time and remit to tackle a particular problem is usually something of a luxury when there are so many other ongoing operational challenges, but paradoxically tackling these problems often yields extremely beneficial results for those ongoing challenges. Increased efficiency, refocussing effort, assessing processes, adding, streamlining or redesigning features and functionality, even the not-so-small task of digital transformation - these are just a few examples of benefits resulting from work that we do with clients. The truth is that many experienced, cross-functional internal teams may well come to similar conclusions, but quite simply don’t have the capacity or space in which to do so.

We like to think of ourselves as an extension of an organisations’ own team(s) - we share similar skills, talk the same language, and love tackling those tricky problems, big or small. We have a wealth of experience between us, and over the years we’ve all rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in when needed, but where we really come into our own is in helping define and isolate a challenge. Often the diverse experience, skills and fresh perspectives that our tailored teams offer can be exactly the catalyst that helps an organisation shape and deliver solutions.

Well, this should be easy...

All said and done, it really all comes down to the fact that our particular kind of assistance is actually tailored to each organisation we work with - we help identify the shape of that assistance, create a space for it, bring processes, people and skills to embed it, then work closely with everyone involved to deliver it. Simple. 

So, the next time you are wondering how you’ll get through that backlog, have a great idea (even the inkling of a great idea) but don’t know how you’ll ever get some space, capacity or skills to tackle it, maybe it’s time to consider an agency - we for one would certainly welcome a chat about how we can help you.