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Picture 12While the main stage presentations at AIGA Minnesota’s Design Camp last weekend didn’t really focus on the topic of change in the design world, much of the side chatter I was hearing involved the changing ways that designers are working—or being forced to work. With a student-to-professional ratio of roughly 1:1 at the conference (rare for a design event with a professional focus), there were plenty of attendees who were looking at their own future with shaky knees, wondering where the opportunity will be in this profession that seemed so wide open less than a couple years ago.

Of course, the design jobs will return (perhaps a bit slower than some would prefer), but what exactly will the job description be when they do? Designers—and especially communication designers—have found ourselves tagged on to the end of the business process despite our best efforts to infiltrate our clients at a deeper level. The fact remains that the vast majority of what we do still involves putting a pretty package around a product, service, system, or experience that was fundamentally complete before we designers arrived on the scene.

So, I was pleased this morning as I bagged up school lunches for my two teenagers (talk about a design project…) to hear the topic of design coming from the radio speakers. Tim Brown, CEO of global design firm IDEO and author of the new book Change By Design: Tim Brown’s Book on How Design Thinking Inspires Innovation, was being interviewed by NPR’s Renee Montagne. I was doubly pleased that the focus of the conversation was around the potential for design to impact our dysfunctional healthcare system, a topic about which I am passionate.

I’ve embedded this short interview below along with a recent TED video in which Tim Brown expands on his ideas for design and design thinking to make change.

“I think the design of participatory systems in which many more forms of value beyond simply cash are both created and measured is going to be the major theme not only for design but also for our economy as we go forward.”

This is a profound statement that, if true, will dramatically change the expectations placed upon those students I encountered at Design Camp as they invent the next generation of our profession. Tim Brown’s prophecy is daunting for those of us in the middle of our careers, but as always, with change comes opportunity. Personally, I’m in complete agreement with Brown on this issue and I welcome his loud, strong voice to the chorus of change.

NPR Morning Edition Interview with Tim Brown

Tim Brown TED Talk

Picture 10I had the pleasure of presenting a series of workshops on design and entrepreneurship last weekend at AIGA Minnesota’s Design Camp. Held on the shores of Gull Lake in central Minnesota, Design Camp is a hidden gem among design conferences featuring internationally known speakers and a wide range of breakout content. Special thanks to AIGA MN for the invitation and the hospitality.

I always begin my workshop sessions by asking attendees what their reasons are for not pursuing a great business idea, and inevitably the top three are: money, time, and know-how. Essentially what I’m hearing is that the process is simply too daunting and complicated. So, I was intrigued and excited when Laura Shore, Senior VP of Communications and Innovation Strategy at Mohawk Fine Paper sent me an email announcing the launch of a new Mohawk project called the Felt & Wire Shop. Felt & Wire is a curated online marketplace showcasing products designed mostly by communication designers.

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Moonbeam Clock by Pie Bird Press

The products on Felt & Wire all have a paper connection of some sort (not surprisingly), but the range is impressive. Stationery and gift cards, invitations, wrapping paper, posters, prints, and calendars by some of the top names in communication design: AdamsMorioka, Chen Design, and Grant Design Collaborative among many others. Some of my favorite pieces are from Pie Bird Press in Albany, CA, which features bold, graphic imagery with a blend of pop art sass and retro silkscreen charm.

Importantly, the submission and review process is streamlined and user-friendly. A simple online upload of jpegs and/or video and some background info and designers are one big step closer to bringing their ideas to market.

While curated online marketplaces for gift items are not a new phenomenon (Etsy, which launched in 2005, is one of the most prominent), Felt & Wire is unique in its clear focus on communication designers. I see a strong correlation between the Felt & Wire Shop and the machine that Apple has developed for the iPhone app development process. In both cases, the part of business development that intimidates most designers becomes so simple that it’s almost a non-issue. This highlights a big need—and opportunity—in the area of designer-driven entrepreneurship: I would love to see more venues like Felt & Wire that would allow designers working in other media to have this same speedy route to market. Along this line, I hope Mohawk will recognize how wide open this space is right now and expand the vision for Felt & Wire (nudge, nudge, Laura).

For those of you heading to Memphis this weekend for the AIGA Make/Think conference, check out the Felt & Wire booth. In the meantime, here is an excerpt from an email exchange Laura Shore and I had discussing the launch of Felt & Wire.

How did the idea for the Felt & Wire Shop come about?
Two years ago, I visited the New York Stationery Show for the first time and was blown away by the smaller, more creative booths. First of all, the work was fantastic. Second, as we spoke with exhibitors it was clear that many were using our paper for their products. How could we find a way to capture that energy and recommunicate it back out to the world? How could we help promote these micro-enterprises through our network of connections? As the idea percolated down, I started thinking of all the cool things I’ve received over the years from designers we’ve worked with. Every graphic designer I know is a closet product designer. They just don’t have a means of distributing their products. The retail market for someone in manufacturing and communications design seems byzantine. Quantities are tiny. I’ve never figured out how anyone could make money at it!

About that time I got an e-mail from Josh Chen, a great designer in San Francisco, who was selling product on a marketplace site. I discovered Etsy and started thinking about ways to connect the dots.

Were there models out there that you were emulating?
There are a number of marketplace sites out there that we took hints from.

How are products chosen to be in the shop?
The site is curated by a panel who manage the balance of content and also ensure that all the work meets our high standards.
You sign up on the site and submit your candidates. It’s very straightforward and intuitive. We want this to be a place where the press comes to see what’s best in paper-based design. And where the best designers will feel comfortable showing their work.

What about the type of products you’ll accept—is it just paper-driven?
We’ll consider anything that’s paper driven—or services that support paper-driven design. I’m still looking for lampshades, wallpaper!

Are there any sales trends you’ve been able to spot so far?
Still way too soon to tell but if my credit card is any indication, I think it will do very well.

What are the long term goals for the site?
Every day we have new ideas. We’re working on ways to support AIGA chapters and other non-profit design-driven organizations. We’d also like to find ways to connect designers to digital printers so that they don’t have to inventory everything they sell. I would like see posters and prints from my design heroes (and heroines). And if designers are true to form, I will be continually amazed by what product ideas come forward as candidates.

It seems like Mohawk may be positioning itself as a leader in designer-driven entrepreneurship, am I right?
We want to be a leader in a number of areas. I agree with you, there’s a huge void here!

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