Running A Design Studio: Here’s Our Source Code

Ritik Dholakia
8 min readJan 14, 2019
2017 Year in Review

Studio Rodrigo celebrated our 6 year anniversary in February 2018. For six consecutive years, we’ve managed to be a (mostly) profitable, 12–15 person design studio delivering high quality work. Our core design team has been together 5+ years, we have been able to stay incredibly “on mission” in terms of the clients and projects we take on, and have been able to invest in our team in meaningful ways.

As we’ve built the studio, we’ve also met and compared notes with a lot of small businesses who we respect a lot. Each of those relationships and conversations yield insights that we apply to our studio.

We want to share some of our experiences in how we run our studio, how we set goals, how we communicate vision, and build studio culture, and how we run the studio day to day.

Why “Open Source” the Studio?
In sharing, we hope to help people running companies, thinking about starting companies, or just curious about how this works. We also hope that by putting ourselves out there, we get some feedback that helps us improve.

The Blueprint: Values & Business Review
Each year in January we review this deck with our entire studio. The deck is a summary review of the entire history of the studio, starting with our vision and values, and then reviewing each year, with a detailed focus on the most recent year.

The purpose of this annual share is to align our entire team on our vision, values, and make sure there is clarity, understanding, and transparency about how our business works.

The only changes we’ve made in sharing this deck publicly is removing projects that we can’t share and anonymizing project financials.

How We Got Here
We begin each year in review at the beginning — retelling the history of how the studio started. This origin story is important to establish where we came from. A bit of nostalgia for those of us who were with us from early days, but helping to define our reason for being and journey for people who join the team later.

Things We Value
We wrote these slides, verbatim, when we started the studio and began pitching ourselves to potential clients and hires. The words haven’t changed in six years.

2012–2016: Reviewing Goals, Projects & Financials
As each year passes, this section gets a little longer. We feel it’s important to give each year it’s due. For those people in the studio who have been with us for a while, this is a nice little trip down memory lane. For new people joining the studio, it gives a detailed understanding of how the business works, the history of creative work, and an understanding of how the studio evolves over time. As you’ll see, we try to be transparent about our company goals, work, and financials — and evaluate ourselves honestly and critically on where we met our goals and where we fell short.

2017: The Year in Review
For the year completed (since this deck is from January 2018, the previous year was 2017) we:
- reflect on goals for the year, in detail
- celebrate personal milestones and key events from the year
- showcase the work completed in the past year
- review revenue & costs in detail
- discuss the specific implications of revenues + costs to the business

- we do a full detailed break down of the individual projects

- we talk about the distribution of revenue on projects, compared to the relative amount of time and energy that it takes to deliver projects successfully

- we talk about choices that we make to take on less profitable projects because we value the work

- we talk about how certain projects and relationships allow us the financial flexibility to take on less profitable projects

- we get in to depth about our financials

- in 2017, in included discussing that we had our first “unprofitable” year, but that was a conscious decision to give raises and pay bonuses

- we use this financial detail to set up conversations about our planning for the next year

2018: Goals & Planning
The goals and financial detail of the previous year helps us set up the next year. A major theme coming out of our 2017 year in review was that we believed that the studio would have to start changing … in anticipation of some market dynamics, but also in recognizing that the relatively smooth six years preceding were just not likely to keep going

We tried to frame and discuss our 2018 goals. Some of this was responding to changes we foresee in our industry, and some candidly were in response to the election and the aftermath of that in our culture

What We Ask Of You
We end by recognizing that we make a lot specific choices, investments, and decisions to make our studio a special and rewarding place to work. In return, we ask a few things of each individual in our studio.