is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
While I really do believe that the design industry has changed enormously over the past decade, and that the opportunities available to designers are much greater today than they were even a decade ago, I have to admit that when I recently blogged about this topic I was being a little bit sensationalistic by titling the post “The End of Client Services.”
Several other design bloggers wrote thoughtful posts in response to mine — the best one was probably from Erika Hall at Mule Design — arguing that client services will never go away, and I think they’re right. It’s hard to imagine that all businesses everywhere will ever stop having a real need for outside design expertise; there’s just too much for most companies to know, so being able to access external help will always need to be an option. Now, it’s my belief that the best businesses will meet those needs by internalizing design expertise and methods themselves, and going forward many — if not most — of the choicest design challenges will be tackled by in-house teams.
But there will always be work out there for design studios and agencies, I’m sure of it. What’s more, the services industry is full of smart, talented, visionary people, a disproportionately large number of whom are extraordinarily effective agents of change. What I meant by “the end of client services” is that, within a few years, the landscape for this industry will look very different from how it’s looked up until the recent past. The best of the best from this industry will help evolve the client-designer relationship to meet new expectations and to create new kinds of value.
For me, at this time in my career and my life, client services just isn’t what I want to do, but I wouldn’t ever say that I’ll never return to it either. I’m not sure any designer, no matter how prolific they become as auteurs of their own career and products, ever really rules out the possibility of taking on a fantastic project with an enlightened client. What makes a designer a designer is an inability to resist solving problems, and services is still a great way to get exposure to many different kinds of irresistible problems — and to learn a lot about subject matter areas that most in-house designers will never get to touch. Even better, if you have a good services business — one that satisfies you creatively while rewarding you financially — then you have a great way of getting paid to do design. If you’re passionate about design, like I am, then that’s gold. Not a lot of people can pull this off, but if you can, then more power to you.+