Agency or Product?

June 30th, 2014

Richard Banfield, on Medium, in a piece titled The Myth of the Design Studio Turned Product Company relates how he feels it got started by 37Signals:

In the process of doing that they unknowingly started the mythology that every design or development studio should become a product company.

I’ll just state, flat out, that not everyone is cut out for product work. Nor is everyone cut out for agency work. But, as my friend Jonathan Christopher points out in his reply — the two shouldn’t be posited against each other as one being better than the other. And, that you should really ask what your motivation for switching to product work really is.

I’m not sure about all of the other shops pursuing products, but I think if you’re in that boat it makes more sense to think about whether you’re trying to build a product or simply get out of client work.

Amy Hoy tore into Banfield’s piece back when it was published. And it is worth a read. But, I’d rather stick with Christopher’s argument for a moment… agency work is not lower than product work.

Recently at Plain we made the turn from being solely a product company to taking on client work. It is a big shift for us and we’ll be learning what the balance between product work and agency work will be for us for a while. That’s OK and that’s sort of the point.

Every person, team, and company needs to learn what is best for them. Not what was best for someone else.

If you followed 37Signals/Basecamp’s playbook by mimicking their every move you would have already built a few products that had, in their eyes, failed. You’d have built and sold a few products that you no longer stuck with. You’d have to rename your company based off of your most successful product. The point is, everyone is always learning, adjusting, and moving. You should be too.

So maybe your team is best suited for agency work. Maybe you’re terrible at agency work and are better suited to work full time on a product. Perhaps it is a mix of the two? Maybe you should work on a farm and get out of this business altogether. It is up to you to figure that out. And that’s OK.