Essential Tips for Making a Design Startup Look Like a Real–Big–Firm

Core 77 offers some tips for faking it until you make it.

Superman costume

Industrial-design supersite Core 77 recently unveiled a new feature, Hack 2 Work, in which a slew of eminent designers and writers offer tips and tricks for running a smooth design operation–from getting your way with clients, to psychoanalyzing your clients based on their table manners, to crafting meals out of vending machine junk food. But one subject, well-trodden by any moderately successful designer working today, caught our eye: How to make your business look bigger than it actually is. Allan Chochinov, a design educator and Core 77’s editor in chief, writes:


Company Name:
There is just something so lame about Allan Chochinov Design. Instead,consider adding “The” before your surname and “Group” after it: TheChochinov Group. Not too much better, and this trick is pretty muchpast its expiration date, but it sure beats the too-easy-to-sussChochinov & Associates. (Are you really the kind of person whowants “Associates”?)

Answering Machine:
The cellphone-area-coded “office number” is beyond a dead giveaway, sofor clients who care, you’ll want to use a service (or console) thatallows you to have an extension number. Have someone else to make therecording, of course, and you’ll get that “For your name here, press 101.” Tempted to gild the lily? “For accounts receivable, press 105.”

Bonus tip: Put people on hold. “Can I put you on hold for a second? I’m so sorry butI’m the only one in the office right now.” Booya!

The Direct Question:

At a certain point there will be no avoiding it. Your potential client will ask, “So how many people are youat your firm?” Chin up, chest out, and in one sentence: “We staff upwhen we need to–bringing in the best people at the right time…akin tomaking a movie.” Don’t blink. “Right now we’re really lean of course,given the economy, but I’m using a great bullpen of freelancers.”Blink. (Notice the switch from “we” to “I” in there? You’re levelingwith them, you’re honest, and you’re ready to work.)

Movie-making? Bullpen? What an asshole.


The entire list is worth a read. And I’ll beat every single start-up in the country knows a thing or two about these techniques–from borrowing offices at other companies, to make your operation look more professional, to having a friend act like a secretary. There should be mini-seminars at business schools and design schools alike, outlining all the tricks of the trade–I mean, this is essential stuff.

Anyone out there have other, dastardly gambits that worked for them? Or, for that matter, got you caught red handed?

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.