Fear that you might be overwhelmed when you return from the Salone in Milan? Book your WiredUp discounted session now! http://ow.ly/jmzr0

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Alberto #Alessi on #design, Italian design, risk-taking and #designmanagement. http://ow.ly/jjp8a

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If you value your contacts share them!

If you value your contacts share them!

Graphic designers and illustrators credit their printing suppliers, but I often hear that product designers and designer-makers can be protective of their manufacturing contacts.

Why hide your contacts?
Is it a fear of competition? Is it the belief that if your suppliers are less accessible to fellow designers, you’ll have less competition? And then we’ve all heard about how difficult it is to find good manufacturers in the UK or anywhere vaguely local. So despite government initiatives championing manufacturing businesses via innovation and design, we still have struggling manufacturing businesses. There is a simple thing small design businesses can do to support British and European manufacturers: share your suppliers’ details.

The same way that designers like to be mentioned and credited when they are commissioned to do a piece of work, manufacturing businesses need orders to survive. They, too, can’t afford to have all their eggs in one basket – they need large, small and medium-sized orders from a variety of clients. Since most design businesses are on the small side, it is very likely that your suppliers can’t survive on your orders alone.

Here are some simple tips to help you share:

  • Be clear. I dare you to put your suppliers’ details on your products, website and communication materials.
  • Be loud. If you know of a fantastic small workshop that makes wares of exceptional quality and that people can travel to over a day or two, tell everyone and use social media to share the good work(shops). Don’t you like it when your clients do this for you?
  • Be chatty. Have a conversation with your suppliers about how to pass them business. Tell them about other design companies you know that might use them. When is their quietest time of year? Have they got expertise, a piece of technology or know-how they don’t value?
  • Be creative in the way you do business. For example, if you struggle to meet the minimum quantity requirements, could bringing another small account to this supplier help them to meet your demand?

Story CubesIt’s good business practice to introduce someone to your suppliers. Keep doing this; become a valuable client and it wouldn’t surprise me if you were to find them going the extra mile to keep you happy.  People are screaming for referrals; any designer can gain so much from sharing their contacts rather than hiding them!

I provide guidance and advice on how to interact with your manufacturing contacts whether they are suppliers or potential clients – get in touch! www.mariongillet.com

Alternatively, have you tried www.mymas.org?

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The Design Council hosted a whole forum about measuring the impact of design, there are a few views on the subject in Design Week.  Beside the debate and exertion I am wondering how to make this actually work? How can this become design businesses and professionals’ second nature, especially if you are a small consultancy or a sole-trader?

How to start measuring?
It starts at the briefing stage. Somewhere under the project goals and objectives, it might be about impact on sales figures, production costs or recruitment. Whilst quantitative impact evaluation is obvious although as harsh and short sighted, how about working at establishing qualitative impact criteria such as: likelihood of clients returning, bringing smiles and hapiness (I’m absolutely serious)..?

An analysis shortly after publication or product launch often comes with straightforward sales figures and other online traffic metrics. But the real benefit for designers in measuring the impact of their creative input is to keep doing it regurlarly after the project is over. It is an easy way to upsale design services, expertise or inform the development of your next product and keep in touch with your clients.

What do you think? Join the conversation!

I am interested to hear from designers who are doing it or want to do it. Please drop me a line (info@mariongillet.com) or leave a comment.

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Cheltenham Design Festival 2012

Design event details and prices

The Cheltenham Design Festival brought design celebration and a little bit of partying to the West Country. A self contained event; one venue, one weekend, one programme that fitted on one poster and a lot of yellow – very good (I write as one who proudly sports a yellow mac!). Not sure it was as good in Milan.

So with more than 30 events to choose from, I went for the Secret Place Hidden Design talk. For £8 you could sit through 4 presentations, get to ask very simple, short questions… and almost get answers. The event brief was centered around the built environment but the speakers ranged from landscape to communication and textile design. Without a single architect on the podium they gave a clear evidence that architecture, when combined with other areas of design, creates a truly human-focused environment.

So why didn’t I go to hear Stefan Sagmeister? It was more expensive. But there is a more important reason  to my decision. I am quite reluctant to sit through Design Celebrities’ talks and presentations. I know: ‘he’s actually quite nice’ and ‘he’s so inspiring’. No doubt he is. Most Celebrity Designers, like any celebrity, are nice, normal people who inspire. But whenever a Design Celebrity is asked how he or she goes about getting clients – the typical answer is something along the lines of:

‘I don’t need to, they find me.’

How is this answer helpful to the self employed, the design graduate, the design intern or the part-employed part-self employed designer who really wants to quit a horrible job but still needs to pay the bills?

Every professional, creative or otherwise, dreams to be sought after, to turn down clients, to choose who they work for. But quite frankly it’s a little irresponsible to suggest that business development is to ‘just wait for the phone to ring’ or ‘wait for the ideal client to turn up’.

I know it’s not seen as terribly ‘cool’ to be going after clients. So two things; either Design Celebrities lie – they ARE doing some business development (something as simple as posting a video of themselves on YouTube counts, you know!), or maybe they are not aware that their activites are, in fact, sales and marketing… Why do most of them have a website, blogs, facebook pages, twitter accounts, press relation officers and agents?

I personally believe that if you pitch, sell and network outside your comfort zone when you are young, or starting, or both, you are just ahead of the rest of the pack when things get tough and the phone stops ringing or rings less.

So to stop hearing the I-don’t-need-to-sell-myself answer, let’s just ask better questions. How do they keep their client happy? Do they make them a nice cup of tea, get them drunk in the pub, invite them to event, send them a really-cool-christmas-card? How did they get their first job? And their second? Why have a website? What do they hate about their website? Have they become a brand?

Note for Stefan Sagmeister and other Design Celebrities: I have nothing against you I know it’s not always easy to be a role model… So if you come across this post feel free to leave a comment. Cheers!

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No – not going to Milan (again!) this year. 3 years ago I promised myself to return to the celebration of Design every 2 years… 2010 I attended the Bangalore furniture fair, 2011 I was busy changing nappies. So what’s the excuse for this year? That’s a boring story. Let’s move on.

Halo Lamps in shop window (Bangalore, India)

A product that addresses many issues: power cuts, energy cost and health.

As I am getting emails and invites from various contacts over new exhibitions, tweets over airport born excitment of flying to the sexiest venue for design, my heart is sinking in my black coffee as I replay the film of my Milanese memories… there are always people to meet there, cocktails to drink over grissini, contacts to make in the sleek and spacious show rooms of the famous furniture brands, unlikely encounters in Zona Tortona, or at the Salone Satellite stands. You can almost smell all the effort that went into all the products being launched.

In 2009  IKEA celebrated it’s 20th birthday in an alternative venue. I was a bit perplex, as I have a love/hate relationship with the brand.  Yet if IKEA is certainly the most legitimate exhibitor in Milan it struck me how discreet the brand during this celebration of furniture design. Every 3 years they roll out their limited edition collection PS. Do they need such a marketing coup maybe to earn more design credentials? No one makes a fuss about their yearly catalogue, the headline stories are about store openings, how big and where. I remember hearing rumours about the IKEA opening stores in India.

I wonder how much is different in Milan this year. What has happened to Diesel furniture range? How about recent economic casualty Habitat? For most Brit this flagship brand of British enterpreneurship and design has been reduced to become an online retailer in the UK, while its Eurpean operations seemed to have flourished. What will Habitat show this year in Milan? Will they give any clues of this new departure now that they are in the same family as Argos and Homebase?

I wonder if the Tawainese design students are still sharply business minded. Will they be the next to teach the world about the business of design?

I remember that Max Frazer wondered about the relevance of such design and product decadence in Design Week. One hopes that there will always be more exhibitors than visitors in Milan. Such product opulence surely demonstrate how design is an integral part of the furniture economy. As design hopefulls and stars make an expected appearance, only a small percentage of pieces shown there will become design hits let alone milestone or classic.

During the Salone pricey Milan puts a financial strain visitors and smaller exhibitors who syndicate to share costs before they can share some glory. I wonder how the small buyers afford their time in Milan. How much do they see ? How do they prepare their visit? How much are they influenced by the design press or cocktail invitations? Do they only go to the Fiera for business and Tortona for a bit of fun and distraction?

Despite all this I am not sure that the design industry makes itself more buyable in Milan. Maybe it’s good.

How about another model for Milan. Could it be run like the olympics? A more curated stage with more country represented? Since developing a new product takes a year minimum, how about getting companies to show every 2, 3 or 4 year?

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How to enhance your design portfolio with text.

Call to action

Call to action – Cubbon Park, Bangalore, India

If an image speaks a thousand words – that’s probably too much talking and not enough telling.  If you are a designer or an illustrator there are endless online platforms to showcase your work and to earn new clients. This post is not about choosing what to show, it is about writing about what you show.

Why you need some text beside your work

  • Never assume that viewers will not look for a caption. If they are interested they will.
  • I am no expert in search engine optimisation but jpegs are more easily found when well associated with (key)words.
  • Not everyone is visually proficient and literate – you are the expert not your potential clients.
  • Images sell better with a good story.
  • When you are in a presentation or meeting talking about your work, the process of writing the caption will inspire the way you speak. One of my clients whose first language is not English uses the text of her portfolio as a prompt when presenting to English clients.

What’s a good story?

A mix of what you put in the work and what the client or user got out of it and how you came to work together.

How many words?

Rarely a thousand… Your portfolio should hold no more than three long stories, many short ones and a healthy number of medium stories. Your long story should never be the full story, save this one for your face to face meetings with inquisitive clients or journalist.

How to inspire the writer in you?
Writing about yourself or your own work is the most difficult thing. Good news is that every designer has a story for every single piece they do. So find your written voice and turn it into a copy that helps you selling your service or products.

Answer some of the questions below to make the story interesting:

  • Who was it for?
  • What was the client need or problem?
  • Why did they come to you?
  • What were the restrictions or limitations?
  • How did you overcome them?
  • What did you enjoy whilst doing the work?
  • What did the client got out of it?
  • Did it win some awards?

Other more specific questions:

  • Why does client X keeps buying from you? – In case you have repeat clients.
  • What do you enjoy doing most? – There must be somewhere you say about what your dream job is, no-one will know otherwise.

And finally…

Get help! Ask people around you to proof read, accept tweaks and hunt for the copywriter amongst your friends, colleagues and relatives. And keep doing it, it will get easier.

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As the furniture fair in Milan is opening I thought I’d share some of the stories I noted down from my last visit. I’ve thrown in a few of suggestions for designers who are about go for the big showcase!

Time is the essence
I spoke to a couple of designers established in Finland. It was one of the few stands where I was approached for conversation. Being in Milan for the 3rd year, they said that their commitment was starting to pay off as buyers and manufacturers were now coming to see them on their stand. Interestingly they also admitted that they started to design and show products that would be easier to sell, for example smaller objects.

Honesty in movement
There was a designer from Australia who was showing to a small group of visitors the way his products worked, folded, collapsed and adjusted. He also openly admitted that he was looking for more opportunities for his products. As this conversation was happening, other people stopped and picked up cards (shame there was no brochure).  I would not be surprised if his honesty paid off.

A nice gang
A gang of cap-wearing designers giving a continuous demo of their products. Since I remember them so well, it proves that their display and performance worked. One of them was handing out information leaflets to visitors who, like me, looked vaguely interested. However, the demo, which consisted of throwing clothes on rubber bits, was taking over most of the stand and exposing adventurous passers-by to the risk of being struck by some young men’s trunks or T shirts (clean, I hope!). They all seemed to have fun though, which is certainly a way to retain attention.

Best behaviours, a few tips

  • Offer the right amount of information. Prepare as much as possible for questions and give information to all your stand visitors.
  • Keep busy. A busy stand is more engaging than a quiet stand where people look bored. Don’t hesitate to give a full product demo to design students, it might inspire a journalist or buyer to stop.
  • Turn passers-by become actual visitors. Devise a way to engage with anyone who shows the slightest interest. You could offer a piece of information to read or have someone available to speak to people, giving and taking information. Be creative and keep it interesting.
  • Don’t do it on your own. Share your stand and have people helping. Whoever helps should be well briefed and trained to answer most questions.
  • Be honest. If you are looking for stockists, manufacturers, staff, etcetera, mention this in your conversation as you never know who you might be speaking to and who they know.
  • Use your market collaterals. Have to hand cards, brochures, price lists, press releases and perhaps a CD with good quality images and know what you give to who.
  • Be memorable. The challenge is to give the right thing to the right person; find out who they are and what they need the information for. The bottom line is that your products have to be remembered and trade visitors get saturated quickly, so it is important to create a long-lasting impression.
  • Network! More than speaking to your stands’ direct neighbours allow time to network with the other exhibitors especially the larger companies outside of your hall, aisle or space.

Coming soon: the Bangalore furniture fair story on my India Connections blog!

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I’m not too sure where the pride of working long hours comes from.  Like many design students, graduates and free-lancers, I have done my share of working too late and taking too little time off. I won’t go as far as pretending that I work strictly nine to five and five days a week (I’m writing this on a Sunday) and take my twenty days of holiday per annum, including all bank holidays. A free-lancer enjoys (or endures) flexible working hours, but I keep thinking that holidays were invented for a good reason.

Making most of your time…off

Switch Off

Switch Off

Before you go

  • Book a non-exchangeable, non-refundable ticket and accommodation. Booked trips mean you can’t really pull out at the last minute.
  • Choose your travel buddy well; typically someone who won’t talk too much about work.
  • Switch your mobile off. Even better, leave it behind.
  • Pay bills and deposit cheques before you leave to avoid some nasty surprises.
  • Place ‘hold jobs’ to invoice before or after you go to cover the time you won’t be working, ensuring you have enough income.
  • Take a moment to assess what needs doing during your absence, what can be delegated and things that can be put on hold. Whether you choose to employ extra staff or hire a virtual PA, it’s a good way to learn how to effectively delegate work.

While you’re away

  • Auto-responder can be a great PR tool. Use it to make announcements or ask questions. But don’t forget to give your return date and/or alternative numbers to contact. Keep it short, personal and fun.
  • If you can, record a temporary answer phone greeting that says who and when to call, or that you will contact the caller on your return.
  • Enjoy your holiday! I really mean it – don’t take any work.

When you return

  • Turn off your auto-responder and change your temporary answer phone greeting.
  • If you have lots of emails to sift through, set up an auto-responder kindly prompting people to call or to be patient. If, however, you gave enough warning to clients, partners and colleagues you shouldn’t have too many emails.
  • Whenever possible don’t promise too much too soon. After my last holiday I found it useful to give myself a couple of days to catch up with book-keeping and filing.
  • If you work in a team or on a large project, book a team/project meeting soon after your return.
  • Book a session with your mentor or advisor. It can help you to get back in the swing of things and at the right pace.

Why I think it’s essential to take time off
Having a holiday is the best way to take a regular fresh look at your business – before you go, as you come back or both. It is also a forced deadline. I use holidays as milestones for my medium and long term plans. For example, if I want to progress to “X” by the end of the year, I ought to have sent 3 proposals to potential clients the week before I leave, and have initiated follow up phone meetings for when I return. I read on the MyCake blog that “Taking a holiday is also a great sign of confidence to your clients”. After all, clients take holidays too.

The most efficient people are not those who work the longest hours. Taking your nose away from the grindstone is the best way to avoid getting caught in it – ‘cause you know that hurts!.

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