Every designer has visions of running their own design consultancy. It’s almost like a rite of passage as you exit tertiary education to dream up a business name and logo in preparation.
I never really had that dream. Or rather, I did, but once I began working in the industry it became pretty clear to me that I wasn’t interested in the business aspects of design. More than that, I didn’t think I had the skills to do it. I just wanted to design, and for a large portion of my career that’s what I did.
But we never know what tomorrow brings.
During a pretty tumultuous period of my career, the idea of a consultancy was again planted in my head. At any other time I would have rejected the idea, but at that time in my life the seed took hold.
Becoming my own boss would give me what I didn’t have; Control, autonomy, opportunities, and new challenges. And I’ll admit that I was not without an ego - I also wanted to start having my own name attached to the good work I did. It had become an attractive idea when at any other time I would have rejected it.
It was perhaps pre-conditioning on my part, but the vision of a design consultancy in my mind was very archetypal. Cool branding, talented designers, stacked portfolio, trendy studio, fashionable couches in the foyer. Picture most small to medium design consultancies and you get the idea.
When I started Virtimachi, that’s what I thought I wanted and that’s the path I started to follow. While I did start as a solo consultant, the plan was to grow in that traditional sense of bodies in seats. Though as time went on I started to get a proper feel for what design consulting really is. More importantly, I got to better understand the people I worked with, what their needs are, and how I fit within their business. More broadly, I better understood the design space and in particular the medtech sector which is subtly different to other design spheres. I have become much clearer on the types of projects I want to work on, and the kinds of people I wish to work with.
At about 18 months into running Virtimachi full time, I came to a junction that I’m sure most consultants come to. Was I ready to make the commitment to scale up the company into that vision? What did I really want?
I will admit the idea of operating as a solo consultant was kind of novel to me. And it’s kind of novel in the design industry. As I said before, a design consultancy has a pretty archetypal shape to it. But the short time I have spent as a consultant has introduced me to many individuals doing just that. The medical device space is so broad and so deep that there is room enough for everyone.
So of course I took myself camping with the objective of re-evaluating my vision. Just myself, a few beers, a notebook, and a question to answer.
(As a side, we live in a world so filled with noise that we’re no longer given the opportunity to reflect inwardly. And something I realised that trip is it actually takes several hours for the boredom to truly kick in and genuine reflection to start. Give it a try.)
What I realised was this. I wanted a design consultancy because of the status associated with it. It was vanity.
One of the key reasons I wanted to begin working for myself was for the freedom and flexibility it afforded me. I could make the right decisions for myself, my clients, my lifestyle, and my family. That last one had been far too long overdue.
Yet to grow Virtimachi into a design consultancy was to make commitments that start to recreate that same framework that I had left behind. Certain things would be expected of me, my responsibilities would increase, and my flexibility decrease. Importantly I would likely do less design, something I am still deeply passionate about.
(Obviously there’s a threshold where with the right people in the right places I could attain the kind of freedom I wanted, but that is rare in the design world. Especially consulting, where you can only sell one manhour per manhour.)
Once I recognised that the idea of the design consultancy was mostly for the status, I was able to gain new clarity on my goals in life. I was able to see the good reasons to continue to pursue the solo consulting. It keeps my overheads low and makes me more accessible to the people I want to work with. They know who I am, they have a relationship with me, and they refer me by name to others.
I decided to become myself.
With a decision to pursue the path of solo consultant, it no longer made sense to maintain the Virtimachi branding for the design consulting. I feel to remain behind the Virtimachi brand would be to do myself a disservice. Using my own name will allow me to just be myself. It’ll allow me to be personal and personable.
Virtimachi will continue to operate unchanged, and from an administrative perspective nothing will be different. There are also a few other projects happening for which it makes sense to keep the company name and branding. And you never know; in years to come, when my place in life changes, I may yet decide to grow the business into the something grand I know it could be.
But a few things will change. Obviously I have the new website and new email address. The Virtimachi website will change eventually too. I also plan to lean more into maintaining the blog and cross-pollinating that onto LinkedIn. As much as social media has its problems, it’s an important part of the world we live in. No point being the best designer in the world if nobody knows who you are.
So this journal will allow me to share my journey; what I know and what I learn. It is my hope that others will gain new insights, or learn something useful from it too.
I hope I can continue to post new and interesting topics in the field in which I work. I will also distribute these posts through a newsletter, which can be subscribed to in the footer below.
Thanks for coming along with me.