Influencers & Profiles

Entrepreneur Zone: Damon O’Sullivan is in the Thick of it

Dan Moss /

Damon O’Sullivan, 39, a director at Thick says his purpose is to make a good impact.

The design firm, almost two years old and with revenue of $1 million and five full-time creatives, does that by bringing in environmental principles to cope with the coming age of resource scarcity and design business practices that tackle these challenges.

O’Sullivan and Adam Morris formed Thick after meeting at another firm, Ogilvy, and then going solo. They were inspired to use their abilities to form change after reading Umair Haque’s New Capitalist Manifesto which defines building “thick value” as enduring, meaningful, sustainable advantage that deeply benefits the larger society.

It’s a little tougher to explain yourself, but once we catch up with people it makes sense.

There’s a million things you could be doing, I guess the challenge is trying to figure out what’s the most important thing you should do next.

What we generally try to do is step people back a bit, and ask them why the problem exists, asking why, why, why, and why they know that problem to be true.

Generally speaking, most people come to us for solutions, not methods.

We’re really just concerned with having a positive impact and finding ways to better measure that, and in 20 years when we look back that’s how we’re going to measure whether we made it.

I think we’re more interested in finding good solutions than being good designers, so design is a means to an end – it’s just a great way to solve problems.

On competition: We don’t spend a lot of time looking at other companies. But we just got the sense that some are more about strategic design, and looking at transforming the way larger clients think internally. Other design agencies act more as consultancies, they will go into a department and help the team learn the methods of design and become designers. What we’re doing is applying design through a project with a client.

We believe there shouldn’t be a distinction between strategy and thinking and making.

We want to hire people (a) who are passionate about sustainability and optimistic about the challenges ahead, and (b) have a varied background.

All of our guys can sit in new research, think through strategy and make stuff. All of our designers code, it’s just getting people across as much as we can so people can stick with a project and jump in and out, we can be as flexible as we can.

I think there’s a challenge connecting to the right projects. Because we’re small we’re either overwhelmed with work or you don’t have enough. Managing the pipeline is a constant focus.

We do a lot of small projects, and I think that’s unavoidable, and they tend to be the most challenging ones.

On strategy: We probably started more with a purpose.

We want to be the people that companies would turn to when they want to act better, when their intention is to do less harm or do more good.

On growth: The leading businesses have been trying to change their ways for a decade or more, and everyone will follow. The pressure on doing well and giving back to society will only grow.

It’s really a matter of designing what the next 20 or 30 years should look like, but it’s already happening everywhere. It’s more that we just want to be a part of it.

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