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What a great morning with the designers of Autodesk at their XSummit15 in San Francisco. Thanks so much to Maria Giudice, VP of User Experience at Autodesk for the invitation. Here is a list of links from the presentation as well as a PDF of the slides (and check out the special bonus PDF of the IBM Design Thinking Field Guide, filled with great activities and facilitator notes).
Here are some notes and links for the MN Do-Gooders Marketing for Fundraising panel discussion that I am participating in on March 18, 2013.
Here are a couple good posts that list these and other funding sites with additional commentary and info on each one:
Forbes: Eight Crowdfunding Sites For Social Entrepreneurs
Hongkiat.com: 10 Crowdfunding Sites To Fuel Your Dream Project
PlanToStart: Top 10 Crowdfunding Sites for Entrepreneurs
Additionally, check out these resources:
AIGA Design For Good
Start Up Weekend
Minnesota Cup: Breakthrough Ideas
Merge Mashup, my grand experiment in taking the themes of this blog into the live setting happened last Tuesday night. More than 80 designers and creative professionals packed into the Pizza Lucé Second Avenue Room in downtown Minneapolis to hear and participate in the stories of two dynamic young businesses: interactive agency Sevnthsin, and start-up micro-brewery Fulton Brewing Company. The atmosphere was casual and lively, the business stories were fresh and inspiring, and the crowd was engaged and insightful.
Jamey Erickson, founder of Sevnthsin, led off the evening with his story of the agency’s very cool “Distance Makes No Difference” experiment where their entire staff hit the road for a two-week period. They traveled the country, visited clients and potential clients, and mixed up the rhythm of the workplace—tracking the whole experience online as they went. For Sevnthsin, DMND proved on one hand that the traditional notion of a workplace can be stretched to new limits, and on the other that face-to-face contact still has a powerful impact.
Brian Hoffman, Ryan Petz, and Pete Grande, three of the four founders of Minneapolis-based Fulton Brewing Company, shared their classic entrepreneurial tale (“gosh, maybe we should trying selling this stuff…”). It’s a “bootstraps” story filled with surprising insights that any aspiring entrepreneur would find inspiration in. Despite their “aw shucks” demeanor, these guys are smart businessmen who are building Fulton in a steady and methodical way. The next step in that growth will be the opening of their new brewery in the Minneapolis Warehouse district this coming summer.
Here is a sampling of some of the Twitter commentary from the evening:
@t_embretson What can you build a business without? Great quote from #mergemashup
@AllieFairbanks #mergemashup Creative-business insight: In the absence of answers and money, there is creativity. Take the leap and figure it out.
@ljfeder Is naivete a strength in a business startup? #mergemashup
@iJones Approachability and complexity do not have to be mutually exclusive #fultonbeer #mergemashup #craftbrewing
@chasporter “You’re not working with our mission statement. You’re working with us.” Jamey Erickson, Sevnthsin #mergemashup
@ArielleWeiler “When you have partners, you don’t always win, and sometimes that’s a good thing.” -Pete of @fultonbeer #mergemashup
@aigamn “It’s been 2+ years and all of still have day jobs. (& wives.) Growth is expensive.” -Fulton Beer #mergemashup
@wendy5by5 The Fulton boys have really cute shirts. #want #mergemashup
(also, thanks to everyone who tweeted—#mergemashup was a trending topic in Minneapolis that night!)
So, I had an absolute blast—the event exceeded my expectations, and proved my suspicion that a live event would be a great companion to the “pixeled” word. Special thanks to Jeremy Jones and The Foundation, along with AIGA Minnesota for their strong support of this event.
Mashup #2 is already percolating—stay tuned.
The first Merge Meetup in early November was a blast, so let’s try it again! Like last time, this Meetup will be a small-group discussion of design and entrepreneurship held over the lunch hour in the LynLake neighborhood of Minneapolis; no Powerpoint decks; no agenda; no action items. Just open discussion, idea sharing, and probably more questions than answers.
The conversation will revolve around the themes of the blog: business planning, funding, networking, and education, with healthy doses of social media and service design. We’ll also discuss ideas for evolving the Meetup format and adding more structure (or less?) for future gatherings.
The first Meetup filled up right away and a number of people were on the waiting list. So if you attended that one, please let others get in on this one first. After a few days, if there is still room, feel free to sign up!
As the impact of online social media grows, I’m increasingly intrigued by the possibilities that live programming can offer as a more intimate and personal companion to Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere. I’ve noticed this not only with my own recent speaking experiences (which have been thoroughly energizing), but also by attending live events like Kane Camp, TEDxTC, and the MIMA Summit—each of which has been driven by a strong social media presence. So I was eagerly anticipating the first Merge Meetup, which happened earlier this week. Meetup, a fixture of the social networking world, is a shockingly user-friendly online tool for connecting people of like interests and helping them schedule live events.
Like most things related to Merge, the first Meetup was an experiment, I had no idea what to expect (and I must admit to fears that the session would be a colossal dud). And thankfully, like most things Merge, I was thrilled with the interest and the outcome. I was joined by 16 people—mostly with a design, or creative background—at Common Roots Cafe in Minneapolis, for a vigorous discussion of the state of design, design business, and design thinking. The format was loose and most of the session was spent with each of us providing revealing and illuminating introductions and background stories.
Despite the lack of a singular focus, some common themes emerged from the session, the first of which was restlessness. With the majority of the group in our 40’s and 50’s (apologies to the few in attendance who don’t fall in that demographic), we’ve been working in the creative industry for 20-30 years. There was a palpable sense that the client service model that is the norm in our industry has become unfulfilling, personally, professionally, and creatively. As we went around the room, this sentiment was echoed repeatedly. “I still love the creative process,” said Deb Miner, a designer who has launched a line of children’s products called I Get Around, “but I hate being in competition with other designers.” Scott Geiger, who worked for many years designing for the healthcare industry, described a scenario that seemed to resonate with everyone, “We would present some really great creative concepts and the client would be thrilled, then three days later they would call back and say that the project had been killed by someone higher up the ladder.”
Another prominent theme was the desire to give back to the world through our work as designers. Many in the group expressed a sense that just earning a fee for our work was not enough anymore and that there is an untapped potential in the design community to solve some of societies complex problems. This theme connects strongly with the topic of Service Design which I have been discussing regularly on Merge.
Finally, I found a common thread around the desire to find ways to collaborate more with other designers, and with professionals in other disciplines. Michael Foley, of Alphabet Moss, a firm with dual specialties of graphic design and garden design, commented that the garden design process is much more collaborative, “I’m constantly working with people who have different skill sets and backgrounds. I wish I had more of that on the graphic design side.” Again, the new models we’re seeing in some of the successful Service Design firms (mostly in Europe, so far) live into this potential by embedding designers within multi-disciplinary teams of ethnographers, physicians, anthropologists and others.
We had some amazing ideas for how the Meetup concept could evolve into a more focused format and I will be exploring these in more depth. Thanks again to those who joined me, and stay tuned for an announcement soon about the next Merge Meetup which I hope to schedule for early December.
Will Powers, the widely respected designer, printer, and book maker who lead the design and production department at the Minnesota Historical Society died unexpectedly while vacationing in Canada last week. I met Will in the mid-nineties when we were both teaching typography at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota. Will had a passion for typography and fine printing, and he helped develop the typography curriculum at CVA along with Visual Communications department director John DuFresne, who shared these words about Will:
“Will contributed greatly to the development of a curriculum that featured his love of fine printing and book design. He often taught the second of a unique three course sequence on typography and helped establish the high level of expectation that has led to CVA graphic design students being universally recognized for their advanced skill in the art and craft of using type. Will influenced many lives and will be sorely missed. Yet his legacy will live on in the spirit of the enthusiasm he shared and in the students and associates he touched.”
In Alan Webber’s new book, Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self, the Fast Company co-founder probes broad, profound concepts like, strengths, weaknesses, change and failure in short, digestible chapters, all with a design-friendly tone. The “rules of thumb” actually are derived from a stack of note cards Webber carried around with him to document pivotal life and business lessons. I’m a big fan of Fast Company and have been since its early days, and I find that the fresh, conversational vibe of that publication comes through in this very readable book. At times, though, I wish that he would actually dive a bit deeper on certain topics, and one of these topics is the theme of Rules #9 and #37: Money.
I’ve written many times about my frustration with the queezyness designers seem to feel whenever the subject of money is raised in a serious business context. Frankly, I haven’t quite figured out why this is the case, but the plain reality is that whether your motives are blatantly capitalistic or purely humanitarian, you must find a way to raise enough money to make your vision viable. In Rule #9, “Nothing Happens Until Money Changes Hands,” Webber hits the topic of money head on and reveals “one fundamental fact of life that every entrepreneur needs to internalize: nothing is real until somebody hands you a check.” He goes on to state, “that money isn’t the be-all and end-all for entrepreneurs. But it is the start-all.” Refreshing candor about a touchy subject.
Webber revisits the topic of money later in Rule #37: “All Money is not Created Equal,” which expands on the process he and his partners went through in the original round of funding for Fast Company with some practical advice about whom you should ask to invest in your concept and why. “We wanted people who had more than financial capital; we wanted people with reputational capital—people whose credibility would give us credibility.”
The book is a quick read that occasionally strikes a resonant tone; certainly worth adding to your summer reading list. Here’s a clip of a presentation Alan Webber recently gave at Google HQ (which is part of a series of videos from Google that are quite insightful).
I hope to achieve a rhythm with Merge between the micro and the macro. Examples of micro topics will be tactical stuff like business plans and online advertising, while the macro will come through in an ongoing discussion of business and cultural trends and how they relate to design and entrepreneurship. Today, we go macro.
Kurt Anderson is one of those annoyingly multi-talented guys. An author (latest novel: Heyday), a former journalist, and the host of the design-friendly weekly public radio show Studio 360. His cover story in the April 6 issue of TIME Magazine (yes, the one that has ink on paper) is an exquisitely clear-headed snapshot of the current cultural/economic/creative moment entitled: The End of Excess: Why This Crisis is Good for America. And a snapshot that is relevant to entrepreneurs.
With all of the hyperbolic commentary about the current state of the state, Anderson pushes the pause button in this essay and puts a surprisingly hopeful spin on our seemingly grim circumstances. Looking back at our recovery from previous economic and cultural crises, he discovers that those hard times were followed by periods of great innovation and progress.
“Recall, please, the national mood in the mid-’70s: after the 1960s party, we found ourselves in a slough of despondency, with an oil crisis, a terrible recession, a kind of Weimarish embrace of decadence, national malaise — and at that very dispirited moment, Microsoft and Apple were founded. The next transformative, moneymaking technologies and businesses are no doubt coming soon to a garage near you.”
Or maybe a design studio near you? I would suggest that another area on the cusp of a great leap forward is communication. As designers of communication, we are the ones to lead this trend—and not by waiting for our clients to hire us to design their innovative communication products for them, but to innovate ourselves. Kurt Anderson continues:
“This is the moment for business to think different and think big. The great dying off of quintessentially 20th century businesses presents vast opportunity for entrepreneurs. People will still need (greener) cars, still want to read quality journalism, still listen to recorded music and all the rest. And so as some of the huge, dominant, old-growth trees of our economic forest fall, the seedlings and saplings — that is, the people burning to produce and sell new kinds of transportation and media in new, economic ways — will have a clearer field in which to grow.”
Designers, let’s take the field.
Special thanks to my friend, mentor and new social media user, Eric Madsen for the tip on the TIME article (more on Eric another time).
Designers interested in entrepreneurship would be wise to get familiar with Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine. In 2004 Anderson coined the phrase “The Long Tail” which describes the niche strategy of businesses that sell a large number of unique items, each in relatively small quantities. The Long Tail phenomenon is being played out a million times over by ambitious entrepreneurs on the web. Related to this, Anderson is a proponent of online advertising as a way for web-based start-up businesses to generate revenue, become viable, and find their place in the “tail.”
The Long Tail actually stems from some pretty complex economic and statistical theories from the mid-twentieth century. Wikipedia has a good overview.
But the best way I’ve found to get a quick primer on Long Tail economics as it pertains to entrepreneurs today is this short video:
This short clip of Chris Anderson at a MediaBistro conference gives a preview of his thinking and energy.
Anderson writes a popular and informative blog called (of course) The Long Tail, which I’ll place in the Merge Blogroll. Also here’s a link to his book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.
In fairness, there is much debate about how and whether Anderson’s vision will materialize given the light-speed evolution of social networking and the potential ramifications this will bring, but if you are a designer looking for ways to launch a new venture, don’t ignore this guy.