Clandestine Design Group - Design innovation agency

Problem solving is at the core of Clandestine Design Group’s design process, an industrial design and customer experience innovation consultancy that works to solve a wide range of problems for its clients.

“We use our client’s industry experience and combine it with our design-led research to develop new knowledge, key insights and innovation strategies,” founder and Design Innovation Director Neil Davidson says.

“We then translate these innovation strategies into commercially-focused, next generation, disruptive and valuable products, services and experiences delivered to market.”

When starting Clandestine in 2015, with a small team of graduates from the Auxiliary Design Innovation School, Neil didn’t want to be just another flashy, noisy, showboat style consultancy.

“I recognised that if clients were reaching out it’s because they are often in deep need. They need a covert, yet collaborative military like team to quietly work with them to conduct market reconnaissance, develop new innovation strategy and then to efficiently, tactically and practically deliver disruptive and leading product and customer experiences to market,” Neil says.

Clandestine aims to solve client problems no matter the business size.

“The size of the client’s business can influence the type of problem they face,” Neil says.

“Small businesses and entrepreneurs come to us needing to validate ideas or innovations and need more guidance navigating the design for mass manufacturing. Medium and large businesses have vastly different problems that we help them with, including having constraints like budgeting, resources and existing customer expectations. Often they need a new iteration of current products rather than radically disruptive startup deliveries to market.

“We have purposely curated Clandestine’s client portfolio to possess a 50/50 split between large corporate clients and small startups. The commercial engagements with large corporations allow us to offset our Tier 1 consultancy rates to our small startups, allowing them to access a world-class design innovation team they traditionally couldn't afford.”

A major benefit of its client portfolio mix is that it allows the team to actively connect and facilitate collaboration and innovation commercialisation partnerships between its client types at the two ends of the business market size and innovation spectrum.

“You could consider us a relatively new startup design innovation agency, but we also mentor and support a large stable of startups well beyond design services,” Neil says.

For the Clandestine team, the highlights have been many.

“The studio’s growth over the past five years or so has been humbling and inspiring,” Neil says.

“We are very fortunate to have built a dynamic team that is equally dosed in gender, experience, youth, talent and passion for world-class industrial design.

“Our business model, combined with the Queensland Government's startup ecosystem initiatives, have seen us support some truly amazing and globally impactful Queensland businesses.

“We really celebrate our clients successes and it is great to see these clients making an impact and being recognised,”

The combined efforts of the Clandestine team have helped make their clients impact, disrupt and grow in their markets. These efforts have also been recognised by one of the worlds most prestigious and rigorous design innovation award programs run by Good Design Australia.

“Outside of our clients successes we have also had the great honour of being selected in the DIA Australian Design Team of the Year for the 2018-2019 award period,” Neil says

“In 2018, I was also invited to be a guest Design Award Judge of the International Korean Good Design Awards. It was a great honour as I got to rub shoulders with industrial design leaders and icons from around the world.”

The company has seen organic growth year on year.

“While the organic growth has been great, we can attribute much of our success to the support our clients have received from the Queensland Government’s various startup grants and ecosystem support initiviates,” Neil says.

“Our main office is based in Brisbane with six full-time staff, which is combined with another senior designer site in Bath, UK. This brings us to a total team count of seven, with three females and four males, a ratio we are quite proud of.

“This gender equality ratio isn’t common in our industry, however results in incredible design outcomes that meet the needs of both male and female customers.”

This spread allows it to service its National, US and European clients with the Australian customer experience and innovation in command of a strong Australisian manufacturing network.

“Other contributing factors for growth is our commitment to take on more of an R&D industry network facilitator role. We are more than happy to facilitate introductions and referrals between expert service providers within the entire R&D ecosystem, from market research agencies through to trademark and IP lawyers to grant and R&D tax rebate service providers,” Neil says.

“We make sure our clients are introduced to a range of the right companies in Queensland to ensure their continued support and success.”

As for many startups in 2020 the plans for Clandestine changed.

“2020 was going to be the year we continued to grow our European and US client bases, however the COVID-19 crises has unfortunately restricted the market and our ability to travel to help build these markets,” Neil says.

“We have instead chosen to refocus on our existing client businesses and make sure their business models and product offerings are optimised for e-commerce and cost-effective international shipping.

“One positive side effect of the COVID-19 crises is an appetite from Australian companies to relocate manufacturing back to Australia and Queensland. This has allowed us to reconnect and build stronger manufacturing networks within our Queensland suppliers.”

With this being said, looking forward Clandestine will continue to respond to Australia's needs during the disruptions of 2020.

“In recent months the team at Clandestine Design Group have provided aid and design assistance to Australian companies in COVID stress as part of the GDA COVID-19 Design Taskforce,” Neil says.

“We will continue to support wherever we can.”