All design firms, whatever their size, location or market focus, have one thing in common: They are made up entirely of people. Like instruments in an orchestra, it is the people who determine the substance and tone of the organization.

All design firms, whatever their size, location or market focus, have one thing in common: They are made up entirely of people. Like instruments in an orchestra, it is the people who determine the substance and tone of the organization. They come in all sizes and shapes, with different backgrounds, training, and talent opinions about what’s really important.

Try this experiment. Pull five people aside at random and ask them each to describe your firm in a few sentences. Chances are you’ll get five very different answers. Since not only your firm but all of the organizations your firm deals with (including clients, contractors, and consultants) are also made up of people, it pays to understand the overlooked but powerful role that demographics play in shaping any organization.

To understand your demographics, determine how many staff you have by age, sex, educational background, number of years with the firm, compensation level, work experience, and so forth. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to track the stages of professional growth that all of them will encounter in the course of their careers. Understanding this will help you deal with the behavioral aspects of managing your firm successfully and especially in how you put together project teams.

To better understand your organization, try charting some basic statistics. Take a look at the number of staff by chronological age, years of experience with the firm, compensation level and phase of professional development. You’ll quickly see what patterns emerge and where the gaps are. When you add staff, the demographic profile will help you hire strategically; you’ll be able to match the strength of the candidate to the true needs of the organization. The charts will also help with managing your professional development.

It will not only help you with management; it will help your staff understand their individual roles in the organization and what the potential for growth is. Do you have too many designers, or not enough? Do the numbers show that you have too much turnover, or too little? Are you paying too much or too little for talent and experience? Has the time come to consider adding new partners? These are only a few of the issues that demographic analysis will raise. How you address them will determine your success.

“Design by Demographics” excerpted from How Firms Succeed: A Field Guide to Design Management, by James P. Cramer and Scott Simpson. Available from Ă–stberg Library of Design Management.