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Is it alright for a design studio's boss to not have design background?

Hi all,

I am just wondering if it is alright for a design studio's boss who have no design background and yet taking up creative director's role to critique designer's work?

A colleague once mentioned that most of the restaurant's founder are not a chef to start with or rather they do not ever know how to cook. What makes them different is that they have good taste for food and to give good critique. She said that the same concept is applied to our design studio, so what is keeping the design studio going for years is my boss's taste for design.

However I beg to differ. She is always recycling ideas done for other clients. Besides, client have already stated in the brief that they are looking for Design A but my boss will keep forcing Design B to them. What happened is that when I come out with a few interesting concept on Design A, it got all shot down by my boss as she only had Design B in mind. Therefore, I would have to do up Design B (knowing that it would be rejected by clients) just so that my boss would approve the work and be able to send out to client. The best part is that client got back and said that they wanted Design A and said that they choose us as they think that we are capable to come out with interesting concept with Design A. Then my boss replied and said that she agreed that Design A will work better for them.

I have went through this process many times. The problem is that I have to come out with so many designs and going one big round in order to do the design that the client wants. I have to do a few round of design that my boss want and she will only give up until the client rejected it again and again.

I am really emotionally drained from doing all these commercial design work as I am not trapped only between my boss and client, and also between my art director and boss's view.

Both of them always have different views and I have make changes according to their view.

In a nutshell, the work is not that difficult but is my boss that makes everything so complicated and I have to do double job due to her comment

My point is that should bosses with no design background just be dealing in the business/admistrative side and hire a Creative director to oversee the design team?

What I am seeing that there are a few design studio in my country that has bosses with no design bg and yet trying to take up the CD role. I feel that in a long run, it is really draining the designer's soul with their "design sense".

Please advice what I should do in my next step. Or is it the same for other design studio around the world?

P.s My boss will get defensive if I tell her about the way she is doing things. In a nutshell, I am not allowed to feedback to her about this issue.

Paul Murray

Staff member
Many MD's of agencies have no formal design training, but know how to run a business, though they do tend to stick to what they know. However, on occasion I've had to make changes to work because the studio owner prefers it. One instance I was even sat there changing copy that one owner was coming up with off the top of his head, despite the fact the Creative Director had hired a copywriter specifically to write that content.

To be blunt, if she's the boss, running the company and paying salaries, she can do whatever the hell she likes. If you're not happy and the management won't listen, you have to either find a new position at a different studio, or deal with it.

Regarding recycling ideas, I've seen that a number of times. Sometimes it's lazy, sometimes it's necessary to meet a deadline (for example, for a last-minute pitch), other times it's just because that idea is right for more than one client (happens a lot in the events industry).


Staff member

Non designer MD could be great for dealing with money/legal/copywriting etc, bits that designers often aren't so good at. Personally I hate the 'finding work' part of the job, I'm creative not a sales person, but it's a necessary evil so I'd be fine with passing that off to someone who's better at it. Having said that I'm not sure how well someone who doesn't understand design would work well in consultations etc and that they would give a non designer perspective on work that we often lack.

It also sounds like some of the stuff you're describing is the boss 'extending' the project cost by doing extra work to me but like Paul said at the end of the day they're the boss paying bills and in essence you either deal with it or leave.
Hi Paul and Levi,

Thanks for the advice. Really appreciate it. I guess it might be the same problem in other places, I guess I have to deal with it for the time being.

Are there any ways to keep me motivated as a designer?


Staff member
Although it's not always the best solution, if they're the boss then they can do what they like.

Design is subjective and anyone can have an opinion, even if they can't tell their arse from their elbow.
Problem is when they take the creative lead when don't know much about design which I've found to be pretty common and it is hard work.

In that situation I think it's sometimes better just to follow their lead and do what they want even if it is counterintuitive as you don't want to lock horns and
be seen as an upstart.

I recall an argument with an MD who insisted "As we all know blue clashes with black". o_O

To stay motivated I'd try to have some personal projects outside of work time to build your folio how you'd like and use that to secure something you're happier
with and try to suck it up for now.

... Unless they touch your screen or grab your mouse.
That's a no-no and no court in the land would prosecute you if you were to cut them.