The Successful Design Business Practices of Walter Dorwin Teague Part 5 of 5

"We never show them sketches and never present alternatives."  Walter D. Teague

Walter Dorwin Teague -photo courtesy Teague archives
Be the Authority

       Teague used a bold strategy with his clients, one which most consultants do not dare to do today.  When it came time to present the design deliverables, he only presented one.  It was presented with panache and great authority, usually as a beautiful and perfect full scale model, with dramatic lighting and within a contextual environment.  Teague’s perspective was that he was the designer, and he had the experience and expertise to make the final design decision.  His office had explored all possible options and alternatives, and this was the best solution. 

“We work very closely with our clients, their engineers and executives, so that we thoroughly understand the conditions of success in their business.  But we consider that design is our business, not theirs.  We never show them sketches and never present alternatives. 

“Here is where the designer’s designer’s professional responsibility to his client and the public comes in – the two are inseparable.  It is the designer’s obligation not only to find and develop the one best solution for the client’s problem, but also to convince the client that it is the best solution.  We do it by presenting our one right solution in so complete and finished a form that no one can get a fingernail under any edge to pry it loose.”  (W. D. Teague)

Senior Product Designer from 1954-1964, Gifford Jackson, describes an example of this:

"I was put to work right away to design a new set of bathroom fixtures... the client was American-Standard Inc.  I made many pastel sketches to develop the design and then I sculpted the wash basin and bath... I created a clean, simple, bowed fascia, and this was mocked up full size by the model shop in lacquered plaster.  To present these designs, we had the model shop make up a complete mocked up bathroom, with wall tiles, towels, soap etc to display the new fixture designs.

"We designers were introduced to the clients' executives but Mr. Teague made the presentation.  In an adjoining room, Mr. Teague read out the original design brief, then ushered the client's people into the mock-up bathroom.

"Mr. Teague always showed designs in model form, generally full size and finished to look exactly like actual products.  We never showed alternatives, only the one best design we felt answered the requirements of the brief.  The firm had a very good success rate using this method."  (Jackson)

Here’s what his son, Dorwin, says about this approach:

“A few times I ran into complaints because I had only submitted one concept.  Why hadn’t I submitted several ideas so that they could make a choice? But I had automatically considered and rejected alternatives and had no interest in submitting anything but what I thought was the best approach.  If the client remained adamant and insisted on seeing alternate ideas, my course of action was always to bow out of the relationship as gracefully as possible.  Fortunately there have always been enough understanding clients, so that I have been able to concentrate on designs that I can still be proud of.” (W.D. Teague Jr. 50)

    Here Teague urges designers that it is their responsibility to be the authoritative expert.  Present only the best design solution to the client in such a convincing way, there is no doubt that it is the best direction.  


A number of lessons can be learned from these observations of Teague’s business practice.  

1. Have a person on staff that has the experience and social tact for dealing with the clients that you are targeting.
2. Demonstrate your value to clients through documented case studies that show increased value and income as a result of your design work.
3. Understand and empathize with the fears and concerns of the new client.
4. Avoid short-term, low commitment projects.
5. Work hard, and then celebrate.  Allow occasions for staff to celebrate their hard work and talents with parties and other creative events.
6. Offer profit-sharing and partnerships to employees in order to increase retention and pride in ownership in the company and the project’s success.
7. Ally with the top leader in the clients company. Learn about the goals and objectives of the senior decision maker (CEO/President/owner) and become their advocate and supporter.
8. Establish an alliance with the client’s staff.  Assure them of the consultants support and the mutual benefit of the relationship.
9. Be prepared for battle with opponents to progress.  Have rational arguments ready to deal with those who are resistant to change. 
10. Be sensitive to culture and trust your intuition on design direction.  Look to other innovative fields for ideas, trends and inspiration. 
11. Business is about relationships.  Develop lasting, close relationship with key people in the clients company.  
12. Be the authoritative expert.  Present only the one best design solution to the client in such a convincing way, there is no doubt that it is the best direction.  

 Follow the progress of the Teague documentary on Facebook and this blog. 

(click here for part 1part 2part 3part 4)

Works Cited

Jackson, Gifford. Letter to Prof. Jason A. Morris. 29 Sept. 2010. Print
Minutes of the Conference on Industrial Design, A New Profession. Proc. of Conference on Industrial Design, A New Profession, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. 1946. MOMA archive 45.1 S624 1946
Myers, Stowe. "Living Legend of Industrial Design: Stowe Myers." Living Legends Meeting, Association of Professional Design Firms. Whitehall Hotel, Chicago. 5 June 1987. Speech, Audio Recording. 
Official Guide Book: New York World’s Fair: The World of Tomorrow. New York: Expositions Publications, 1939. Print
The Office of Walter Dorwin Teague. Dir. Stowe Myers. 16mm silent film - Personal Collection of Charlie Myers. 1938-1945. 
Teague, W. Dorwin Jr. Industrial Designer: the Artist as Engineer. Lancaster, PA: Armstrong World Industries, 1998. Print. 
Teague, Walter D. "The Responsibilities of the Industrial Designer. An Address to the Detroit Chapter, Industrial Designers Institute." Road & Track Jan. 1960.
WDTA. Walter D. Teague Biographical Notes. New York. 1951. Print, Teague Archives.
Hornung, Clarence P., Advertising Designs of Walter Dorwin Teague. Art Direction Book Co. 1991.


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