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“All I want to be / is someone that makes new things / and thinks about them.” (Maeda, 2014)
I often find myself thinking back to Vali Lalioti’s workshop in the induction week of the MA Creative Economy programme. Will this course change my life? Lalioti played Personality Poker with the class, guiding our minds to shine light on our biggest strengths and weaknesses. I had a question in my mind then that was answered by Eewei Chen’s riveting workshop in Lean Startup and Design Thinking. Design and business – Designing a Business – how does it work? First, to demystify Design in my eyes… I felt like it was all I knew and it is a powerful thing. Yes, powerful it is, but just how much, I did not know.
“The end of Design with a capital “D” and the rise of “design thinking,” a more collaborative, human-centred approach that can be used to solve a broader range of challenges” (Brown, 2013).
“Design isn’t just about making things beautiful; it’s also about making things work beautifully” (Martin, 2009, pg 58). I understood that business is about making things work, and to meet business with a design perspective can help you to give a well-designed product feasibility and commercial viability. For a designer that wants to make a life in design, commercial viability is invaluable. “Without being creative you can’t get far, without business sense you can’t survive” (Ilincic in Lacey, 2014). There was a time when designers were only involved in the styling and packaging of a product, not included in the inception, strategy and sales of it (Heller and Talarico, 2008, pg 8). However, now designers are not only capable of making aesthetic decisions in the life of a product but also in the problem-solving and business side if it (Heller and Talarico, 2008, pg 10).
As a designer, I have always been driven by “entrepreneurial resonance” (Heller and Talarico, 2008, pg 10) in design. I aspire to make a life in design and the experience of the Designing a Business module, using Design Thinking and user-centred design principles to develop and sell a product was an amazing eye-opener to what is to come.
In the near future, I aspire to establish a design collective that spreads it channels across several dimensions in the creative industries. Mainstream design is really my passion: I love beautiful things and believe I can sustain this passion to make a successful business out of it. Inspired by user-centred design, I believe that ornamental design can be more successful commercially. In my previous experience of working in the creative industries, I realised that the market for ornamental design is so large but small-scale designer-makers struggle to sustain their start-up businesses. There are organisations in the UK like Cockpit Arts, established to help designers to develop business skills to further their careers as independent artists. This help is still elitist to some extent, not affordable for all recent graduates due to lack of funding. I want to design a format where design practice and business for an independent artist is a conducive to development, rather than a hurdle to overcome. As a collective, it would not only showcase design and art but also aspire to become a “thought-leader” (Prince & Rogers, 2012) in contemporary design practice. As an aspiring design entrepreneur, the Designing a Business module was like step-by-step guide that I had to follow in real life to prepare myself for the future.
My undergraduate education, main skill and passion lie in the craftwork of design. Our product for the business idea, Helping Hands, gave me the opportunity to design and make a product that had an “entrepreneurial resonance” that I always sought. I was really invested in the project because I wanted squeeze in as much activity as possible in the span of this module, being aware that this would be the first and ever time that I could collaboratively design a business under the shelter of an academic context.
Probably the biggest lesson I learned in this module was that it is not easy to come up with an idea. The ideation process with my team of three other people was the most challenging and important part. Design Thinking and empathy cannot be separated – the first step of user-centred design – “empathy is at the heart of design” (Brown, 2013). By observation, conversation and keeping our eyes really open to possibilities, we discovered the purpose that led to our product Helping Hands. “Creative breakthroughs and innovative solutions require creative listening” (Brown, 2013). Devising a business idea based on empathy was difficult to start with because we strove to find a problem big enough to solve and the solution we ultimately design must make a real difference to users’ experiences. Once we arrived at this stepping stone, things became fluent. We were now Design Thinkers. Problems were easier to solve, innovation was more directed and planning was clearer.
I rediscovered parts of my personality that I had put on a backseat for a while. As the managing director of the team, I learned that actively taking initiative and being responsible brought out the best in me. I was working with friends in a business which was meaningful and taught me immensely important lessons in collaborative creativity and teamwork. For the future in working in the creative industries, I realised that it is very important that I learn to work with a diversity of talent brought to the table by experts in various fields. Vali Lalioti’s game of Personality Poker was instrumental in this process. The lessons learnt in the ideation process and collaborative creativity are extremely important for me to imbibe in my sensibilities to prevent making avoidable mistakes in the future. My plans involve working with creative people at all times. Empathy is key, not only in the Design Thinking process of creative output but also in working with one’s team.
As a driven individual, I strongly believe in healthy competition. The Young Enterprise start-up format followed by the Designing a Business module was extremely beneficial in the way that despite it being an academic assignment per se, we were guided by external rules and working towards a larger dynamic in the horizon. This healthy competitive environment brought out the best in me and showed me which weaknesses I must work on. What was also beneficial is that the course was structured in such a way that at several pivotal situations in the two semesters, the businesses had to pitch ideas to external judges and esteemed professionals from diverse backgrounds in Dragons Dens. This was helpful not only in preparing to pitch business ideas in a professional manner but also to a jury of different experts who critique ideas in their unbiased, unique ways. Pitching our branding strategies to an agency of immeasurable repute like Wolff Olins was an amazing opportunity. The module put us all in situations where we had to learn how to conduct ourselves professionally when performing, giving and receiving feedback – an invaluable lesson I take with me. However, at times I strongly felt that peer-reviews and feedback was made too significant and frequent. In this situation I may have done myself the disservice to take back a little less constructive criticism than I could have. In hindsight, I am glad I made these mistakes because I will know what to look out for in myself that I must subdue in order to get the best out of a situation.
The module held great significance for networking, social media and trade interaction all through the two semesters. One was encouraged to seek opportunities of establishing new contacts independently and consistently. I had the advantage of already having work experience in the creative industries in London and felt that it was slightly easier for me to be able to take that initiative. In all aspects of working in the creative industries, one is never in isolation. People are everywhere and they are important. During induction week, Janja Song said something that I immediately related to then and still agree with, whole heartedly – in the creative industries, people’s professional and personal lives have a slim difference. Creative people work with other creatives and also socialise with them. I see this as really valuable advice for people that are on the brink of their professional careers. I feel it encourages one to network and make meaningful conversation with more and more people. In the course of this module, networking was an academic requirement but also a kind of reward. I have met many interesting people through events such as Bright Ideas and Young Enterprise but also always remembered to maintain connections made outside of the course.
At the end of the degree, the shelter of being in an academic programme will not be shielding us from the real world. The Designing a Business module, however, really did put us out there – venturing into real market spaces and tapping into commercial resources as much as possible. It helped me develop skills that I had not foreseen, like handling accounts for the company and managing the books that would ultimately become a part of the business report that cemented the worth of our team effort for Helping Hands. My artistic skills were always strongest in three dimensional form but while designing for Helping Hands, I also managed to teach myself to do a fair bit of graphic design, to use a semi-industrial sewing machine and also to multitask like a pro-juggler!
So many myths and unknowledgeable beliefs were changed in this module. I realised by experience that innovation is not only in creating a groundbreaking invention using highest technology – it is also in thought. Helping Hands truly evolved, I would say, after the first trade fair in February held at the atrium of the Kingston Business School building. The team had devised product variations and sales strategies to help bring in commercial interest. However, nothing worked the way we planned it to. Now I look back and realise that we were using Design Thinking and running a business and didn’t even realise we were doing it! The team’s priority was always to rely entirely on feedback from customers and target audience for most decisions we wanted to make. We innovated our sales strategy and presented an entirely different and simplified offer while selling at the Kingston town market in March. That day, we sold a total of thirteen units. In the process of designing a business, I had come so close to the product that I failed to be aware that it had a commercial purpose. To watch people being interested in buying the product and while packing the product for a successful sale, it occurred to me that Helping Hands was real. The validation of commercial success for a business was an important benchmark in our development.
“Validated learning is not after-the-fact rationalisation or a good story designed to hide failure. It is a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when one is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty in which startups grow” (Ries, 2011, pg38).
Design Thinking is enabling. To be an artist and to possess business skills is an extremely advantageous place to be in. In an article in Wired Magazine, John Maeda writes what I connect with on a very personal level:
“I am often asked with a pained look, “Do you still make your… art?” — as if somehow what I do today as a leader… isn’t what I really want to do. What underlies that question is the stereotype that “Artists make art. Artists don’t lead organisations.” That stereotype literally resounds, in stereo, inside my head and motivates me in my work as a leader. I find the work extremely exciting and provocative” (Maeda, 2014).
This journey in MACE, Designing a Business with Helping Hands has led me to a place where I fervently look forward to finding my leading position, to seek my design entrepreneurial aspirations in the creative industries.
Brown, T. (2013). Why Better Listeners are Better Innovators.Available: http://designthinking.ideo.com/?p=1258. Last accessed 21st Apr 2014.
Brown, T. (2013). A Lesson in Empathy. Available: http://designthinking.ideo.com/?p=1008. Last accessed 21st Apr 2014.
Brown, T. (2013). The Next Big Thing in Design Is …. Available: https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130820150708-10842349-the-next-big-thing-in-design-is. Last accessed 21st Apr 2014.
Heller, S. & Talarico, L. (2008). The design entrepreneur : turning graphic design into goods that sell. Beverly: Rockport. Pg 8-10
Lacey, H. (2014). Fashion Designer Roksanda Ilincic: Why Creative Women Need Business Skills. Available: http://www.forbes.com/sites/hesterlacey/2014/04/11/fashion-designer-roksanda-ilincic-why-creative-women-need-business-skills/. Last accessed 21st Apr 2014.
Martin, R (2009). The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the next competitive advantage. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing. Pg 58.
Maeda, J. (2014). ‘Artists And Makers, It’s Time To Be Leaders’ – WIRED. Available: http://kpcb.com/insights/artists-and-makers-it-s-time-to-be-leaders-wired. Last accessed 21st Apr 2014.
Maeda, J. (2014). ‘Artists and makers, it’s time to be leaders’.Available: http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2014/02/ideas-bank/artists-and-makers-its-time-to-be-leaders. Last accessed 21st Apr 2014.
Prince, R. A & Rogers B. (2012). What Is A Thought Leader?. Available: http://www.forbes.com/sites/russprince/2012/03/16/what-is-a-thought-leader/. Last accessed 21st Apr 2014.
Ries, E (2011). The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses. London: Portfolio Penguin. Pg 38.
Helping Hands was consistently in a good financial position. The product was well-priced for a high quality wooden, handmade utilitarian product that alleviated silent sufferring. It is a novelty product, something to smile about and there were so many to choose from!
This was the last phase of the business… With invaluable help from our supervisor, I taught myself how to keep company accounts for Helping Hands following the Young Enterprise format. I studied accountancy in school in India, where the double-entry system is followed. It was tough but interesting to do things a new way.
We wrote a business report, presented to panel of judges in the last and final Dragon’s Den and – and – and – got short-listed from among the Young Enterprise teams to pitch to a large audience and be considered for a £3000 seed fun prize from Kingston University and also a chance to enter the national finals in London.
We pitched Helping Hands and it was crazy!
We didn’t win. But that’s okay 😀
I’m happy, and exhausted. But happy.
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# MA Creative Economy 13
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