15. May 2012 · Comments Off on Design Celebrities vs. Design Wannabes · Categories: Main Blog, The Business of Design
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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