The business of design

Published:  November 7, 2011
Jo Hook
The business of design

Ask anyone who’s in business and, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’ll know that to stay in business is a very creative process. As masters in the field of design and creative thinking, it’s important to apply your skills to all areas of life… to look at your business as a design project, not just a way to earn a living.

Do you have a design brief for your business?
Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, I wonder if you’ve ever thought about the ‘design’ of your work environment. By this, I’m not just talking about the physical space, even though we all know the indelible impact that has on us. I’m talking about the design of the ‘business’ you’re a part of. Just like any other ‘artefact,’ a business has many dimensions. Purpose, form, function, look, feel, identity, character, values, culture, language, systems, processes and personality are just some of the aspects of the place where you hang out each day. Do you ever wonder how your business design works for you? Is it enhancing your life? Thinking about your business in the way that you approach a design project may be the key to creating a sustainable and enjoyable business – a place where you want to be.

Be clear about your ‘why’
I have to admit, like many people, I stumbled into my first business (ad)venture. It seemed the natural progression after a series of career experiments. I was 20, with skills in design, manufacturing and retailing and I had no idea how important it is to be clear about ‘why’ you’re going into business. Now I recognise that what I had was an ‘entrepreneurial seizure’, an experience Michael Gerber refers to in his very dry, yet practical book The E-Myth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What To Do About It. It happens when, without too much thought, a person decides to go out on their own. They assume, for a number of reasons, they’ll be better off working for themselves. You may know someone who’s had this experience?

Twelve months after opening my first shop in Chapel Street, South Yarra, despite its commercial success, I felt overwhelmed, lonely, ‘stuck’ and ready to get out. It proved to me that making money isn’t the only measure of a good business and that running one is quite different to having a talent or a job.

Two businesses later, and after loads of formal education in how to start them, run them and enjoy them, I now know that the first question to ask is ‘why?’ No matter what kind of business you’re in or aiming to start, you have to ask yourself, why am I doing this? What’s the purpose of this project? How does this fit into my overall life strategy? How much time will it take? What will I enjoy about it? What are the budget and the time-frame with which I’m working? How will this business give me the life I want to look back on and be happy with when I’m old? We need to ask what we want in life and then be sure that this ‘design’ will truly help us to achieve it. The quality of our questions and our answers will determine the quality of our experience, because the ‘context’ we’re designing for is our life.

This ‘design’ will affect every aspect of it: our health, relationships, family and finances. Whether we collaborate or go through this process alone, it requires our full attention and a full creative toolkit.

Realise what you know and what you don’t know… yet
Just as your design skills may cover various disciplines, you’ll need to add the disciplines of business. Running one involves managing people, information and money. Just like a game, you play better when you know the rules, have a good team and have a strategy to do well. Whether you’re designing your marketing strategy, defining your ‘ideal client’ brief or being creative with an inconsistent cash flow, you need to design systems and processes that allow ease and effectiveness. You also have to discover ways to stay motivated and inspired, just as you do in any project.

All aspects of running a business can be tricky at times. Some aspects you’ll be naturally good at and many you’ll have to learn. Being in business is a constant exercise in advanced problem solving. I recommend you tackle it with a sense of fun and adventure. Celebrating even the smallest success is also high on my priority list.

Wisdom from weird and wacky sources
Once you discover where the holes are in your knowledge, you’ll find many wonderful resources available, and lots of them are free. Happily, not all business books are dry, wordy tomes with organisational charts and profitability graphs. It’s an exciting and vibrant topic that has attracted highly creative souls like Malcolm Gladwell who wrote Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers. There are great personal stories in blogs and e-books, and is an endless source of inspiring information too.

Just as you’ll be attracted to certain design influences, schools of thought and philosophies, you’ll find there are ‘business thinkers’ that will be more in tune with you than others. There is wisdom all around and when you think how far back in time people have been exchanging their wares for money, the wealth of information is timeless.

Leonardo da Vinci’s letters offer great hints on pitching for worthwhile projects; Newton’s Gravity principle is a great model for attracting more business and Dr Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go! is a must-read on the topic of motivation and self-confidence. Inspiration is everywhere. Stay open to it. Create your business by design and have fun along the way.

From desktop magazine.

Illustration: Eliza Hearsum

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