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An Ear to the Ground

The Business Report

Imagine your skull is full of spaghetti. No brains left in it, just a big tangly mess of spaghetti. That’s what it feels like as you get to the end of the Design Thinking module. Everything gets a bit jumbled up, you all start to hate each other a little bit, and you kind of forget how you ended up here.

It was at this point where the business report swooped in to the rescue. A somewhat daunting task at first, completing the report ended up being an interesting, clarifying and almost cathartic exercise. As well as the practicality of outlining the methodologies we’d used, and detailing the lessons we’d learned, for the purposes of assessment, it also allowed us to remember and reflect upon the months that had flown by. We thought back of the initial ideas we’d had, laughed at a few, and dreamed of what we could have done with more time.

Stephi did an amazing job on the layout! It was really satisfying to see our hard work presented so professionally. After talking about our product, the branding, the marketing strategy, manufacturing and finances, we were left to think about possible avenues to further explore. One key feature of our team dynamic is that we have such varied disciplines, and it came as a surprise to no one that we had decided to make the business report the final activity for Hugh Manatee. Although it is sad that we will no longer be working together, the business repot gave us the perfect opportunity to look back fondly on how far we’d come, reflect on the stresses and difficulties we’d encountered and feel proud of the extra resilience we’d developed.

Final Dragon’s Den

‘This is it!’ I thought as we entered the Dragon’s lair. I was nervous, especially after the grilling we received the week previous. We were completely prepared, and had made a few alterations to the pitch following the recommendations from. The mock dragon’s, yet I couldn’t shake my anxiety. I was conscious of the weight of the product, the lack of removable microfibre lining which was the most innovative part of the product (in my opinion), and I was worried about the kind of questions that would be sprung on us.

We entered the room, carried out the pitch just as we had practiced, and were ready for the Dragons’ scrutiny. To my surprise, these dragons (despite one being the same as at the previous two pitching events) had had their fire glands removed. Their wings had been clipped and their teeth filed down. They resembled more the dragon who falls in love with the donkey, than that named Smaug. Either that or we were just lucky enough to have prepared for exactly the questions they had for us.

In spite of the gentleness, I was glad when it was over. I felt like I could finally breathe again.

Trade Fair

For weeks the date on the calendar marked ‘Trade Fair’ taunted us. Poking at us all the time saying ‘this needs to be done, that needs to be done.’ It was daunting because of nothing else but the fact that we had been struggling to find a way of manufacturing the product. We hadn’t really settled on the design- well, I thought we had but the physical prototype I had made was completely different to the digital mock-up which had also been produced (a red alert on communication there).

Although we didn’t have any products to sell at this point, we felt the trade fair would be an excellent opportunity to gain invaluable feedback on the concept and two designs. We made sure we were all talking to as many visitors as possible, explaining how the product works, what the motivations were, and were able to better make some important decisions from the informatio we received. We discovered that people like the design and style of the prototype, but we should think about offering different sizes and shapes to suit different styles of umbrella (for example, those with hook-shaped handles). We also allowed people to register their interest with us, signing up to a mailing list which meant they would be among the first to be notified when the product goes on sale.

Ideally, we would have been able to use the fair to make some sales, however it was an incredibly useful experience which will allow us to develop in the future.

Kingston Market

Flashback to secondary school! Our Young Enterprise team joined the other local schools for a trade fair in Basingstoke town centre. We were all freezing, fingers stuck in a claw-like position, and a food stall at the other end taunted our strict break times with the smell of fried onions.

When we were set the task of attending the market in Kingston, presenting our products in hopes of selling a few, I shuddered with the memory of the last Young Enterprise Market. I’m pleased to say, however, that the experience was entirely different. There wasn’t any cattiness between teams (that was happily kept aside for the secondary schools), everyone was in the same mindset, and we simply just had fun! It was great to see the teams moving between each other to see how everyone else was getting on- sometimes acting as an intrigued customer to encourage other passers-by to take a look- and really interesting to see how each team had developed even since the last trade fair at Kingston Business School.

As a team, we had doubts about the benefits of attending the market. Our product is aimed at busy women, jetting about from meeting to meeting, place to place, not necessarily someone who would peruse the market place on a precious Saturday off work. However! If there is anything this module has taught us, it’s to give things a go. We have to challenge everything, including (especially, even) our own thoughts, ideas and preconceptions. So off we went…

And what did we find? We found that most people at the market weren’t interested in our product. Stephi actually did a number of sales online via her iPhone, funnily enough. That being said, it was still a valuable experience- that’s something I’ve really taken home from this module: that there is value in everything because you are always learning something. Growth Mindset and all that. The value here was not only the bonding opportunity as a team and as a class, but also that we could see that we really know our demographic. We had the experience of trying to draw people in- both similarly and completely different from the experience I have had working in retail- and how to bounce back when some of those people were unnecessarily and overtly rude.

Attending the market really highlighted to us the areas in which we should focus, and push the product. It was a useful exercise sales and marketing, and working it what is and isn’t appropriate for your product and business.

The last one… for now.

Last week saw the first of our ‘Dragon’s Den’ type presentations. Preparing for it was a lot of fun, as is everything with my team (I’m so lucky to be working with such vibrant, witty people), and we were feeling pretty ready by the time Friday rolled around. However, as was to be expected, anxiety reared it’s ugly head and nerves kicked in as we were waiting to start.

In spite of this, our presentation went pretty much as planned. We all remembered what we were meant to say and nobody spontaneously combusted. We received some helpful and rather insightful feedback, and that was the really interesting part. I, personally, was surprised to learn that the male judges would also use an umbrella bag. They expressed to us a need to be able to have a place for their umbrella, and to keep it isolated from their laptops and other valuables.

Janja also provided an enlightening insight into our target market in that women who would be inclined to buy an umbrella bag, would also be the users who would spend £250+ on a handbag.

All in all, it was a very interesting and valuable experience, and has left us with plenty of ideas and inspiration to keep moving forward. Right now, though, it’s the day before the end of the semester and, as you can probably tell in the difference between this post and my previous posts, I am T. I. R. E. D. Who said studying for a masters degree, working full tim and running a business at the same time was a good idea ?*

Here’s to another fantastic semester!

 

*It is a good idea, I’m having a BRILLIANT time.

Value again?

Yes, I’m writing about value again… This time, however, it’s because a sponsored tweet caught my eye. Now, usually I like to ignore sponsored tweets and posts etc. because I am a little stubborn and don’t want to give these companies the satisfaction of my being influenced by them. (Don’t worry, I’m fully aware that my tiny piece of trivial non-rebellion isn’t even a drop in the ocean for them.)

ANYWAY, as I was scrolling through Twitter, as you do, I noticed a sponsored post from John Lewis with the hashtag ‘MakeItThoughtful.’ Interest piqued, I followed the link in the tweet which took me to a board on their Pinterest which featured a range of gift ideas.  If you visit the board yourself, you will see that these gift ideas are pretty standard: socks; a camera; photo frame; Le Creuset… you know, the usual. However, and here’s where it gets interesting, each idea is posted with a ‘tip’ to MakeItThoughtful.

For example, the post depicting the socks- the quintessential crap christmas gift- shares with it ‘Tip 22: If you’re giving socks, why not map out some of your favourite walks together?’ See also, Tip 20 ‘If you’re buying an outfit for your other half, include a dinner reservation to give them an excuse to dress up.’

I think what they’ve done here is really clever, as they have added value to the most generic of Christmas gifts. Ultimately, they are selling abstract values with their products. This brings with it a number of implications, and we can infer various meanings and motivations behind it. Most of which I’ll leave you to ponder on your own, but these are the questions I’m asking: Are they trying to encourage a deeper meaning to Christmas, tapping into the deeper needs of the human condition to engender thoughtfulness as opposed to an ‘oh that’ll do’ approach to gift giving? Or have they just been really creative with their sales and marketing strategies, trying a new approach to make that extra bit of profit?

Either way, they have done something quite innovative. They have applied a level of design thinking by including an element truly valuable to the end users. I’m inclined to say end users, plural, in the sense that one person buying one product as a gift has two end users: the giver and the recipient. Each actor in the gift-giving transaction gains a value: the giver gains the satisfaction of giving a thoughtful gift with a deeper meaning than just a product, allowing them to have a sense of pride in it; and the recipient gains not only a product but a promise of further social interaction, one which will help them to bond with the giver and others. It offers an emotional value alongside the physical gift itself. Something that can only work to bring people together in some way; that can only generate an ‘oh that’s such a nice little touch, thank you!’ response to receiving a gift.

John Lewis can’t change their products/ the products they stock. They can’t suddenly become something different. They can, however, make the products transcend their tangible state and become something so much more.

Take THAT Mrs Finnerty!

Our last design thinking session was presented by the wonderful Simon Hulme who, much to all our surprise, made business finance interesting and engaging. Yes, you read that correctly, interesting AND engaging. Not only did he teach us why keeping track of your finances is important; the differences between cash flow, profit and loss, and balance sheets; and how work calculate all the important figures, he taught us that finance is just as exciting as the other parts of running a business as you get to fully understand how it is developing. It just shows how your business is an living, fluctuating, ever-developing organism and knowing your finances is basically like a health check; a full MRI scan to make sure everything is running tickety-boo. It also gives you the power to quickly identify what may be going wrong and figure out what you can do to fix it.

Although the session was insightful in terms of business, it has also got me thinking about what it is that makes a good teacher. I, for one, was never interested in maths. I wasn’t engaged with it at al, I thought it was boring. I had the same teacher throughout secondary school who- and I don’t mean to be disrespectful here, she still got some good results- would generally just explain a formula, or whatever, very quickly; tell us which page of the text book to open; and leave us to get on with the exercises. This did not interest me one iota. It made me think it was not important and she didn’t encourage me to see the creativity in mathematics.

However, last friday, Simon completely got it right. This man actually generated a genuine interest in this very mathematical topic. And I’m left excited to delve deeper into the financial side of things. I’ve been thinking about what it is exactly that made the lesson so successful, and it wasn’t just the chocolates he was handing out for correct answers! He didn’t just explain what ‘x’ and ‘y’ were, he told us a story about them; told us how they relate to each other; and put them into a practical and clear example of how they work. He was engaging in the way he addressed the class and made us believe that he was interested in it so we should be too- which goes a long long way. He made silly jokes that gave us all a chuckle, instantly breaking the ice and putting himself into the class and guiding us through it, as opposed t telling us about it.

I think the way he approached the delivery of the session is a lesson on communication in itself; if you want someone to be interested in what you’re talking about, you need to show how interested and excited you are about it. Without verbally communicating it he said ‘look, this is fun and a good thing to do. I do it and I’ll show you how you can do it for yourself.’ It has definitely sparked some reflection on my own teaching strategies…

Parallel Industries…

I’m beginning this blog post with a confession: I am supposed to be completing a first draft of my International Music Education assignment… I am procrastinating by fulfilling a different part of university requirements, the much freer and fun part. I’ll also admit, before we go any further, that this post isn’t strictly MACE related, but more of a brain dump of my musings today. Actually, its considering the creating industries so yes it is MACE related… yeah let’s go with that.

As with almost everything, our brains like to scurry off with a different topic while we’re meant to be focussing on something else. For me, today, the tangent was the music industries. I won’t say music industry (singular) because I don’t believe it is one finite entity. As anyone involved in any part of the music industries can see, there appears to be three, maybe even more, industries running parallel with each other. On one side you have the commercial, or major, music industry. Everyone knows the output of this and has a pretty good idea of what makes it work *cough*money*cough* without having any specialist knowledge. Then, in the middle,  there is the independent industry, which can overlap with the commercial as many major labels acquire the larger, independent labels. And right on the other side (let’s say the left side) you have the DIY music industry; a huge sector of largely unsigned artists and sole traders.

Now, considering this, let’s look at the issue often brought up: young people do not have the same relationship with popular music as they did in previous decades. Popular music was the rebellion. It was the only way to express yourself; harmlessly protest against the government; show the older generations that you will do what you want, not what they want you to. Popular music was on television; there were chat shows dedicated to talking critically about popular music; and there was even pirate radio stations, for those who didn’t want to listen to what ‘the powers that be’ chose for them to listen to.

Over time, the popular music, or more specifically, commercial music industry has been  monopolised by a handful of key players. The general population is force fed (for want of a better term) the same music, by the same artists and, arguably, songs by different artists which sold almost the same- as they’re written to a guaranteed money making formula. This has caused for the independent and DIY music industries to scream into the void “why doesn’t anyone listen to good music anymore?!” Firstly, it’s not true. Both the independent and DIY industries are huge in their own way- not particularly financially in the case of DIY, but the cult followings and super fans help. However you can see why they would exclaim such a thing. The music we are exposed to every day, in mundane life experiences, is always the same. The music on all the radio stations are the same, and have been the same for years. Therefore, the general population only hear this music and are completely unaware of the music being produced elsewhere. Theres the cue for the age old statement: ‘music isn’t as good as it used to be.’ Well, yes it is. You just don’t go out and look for it.

But that is just the thing. People have to go out and actually look for it. And maybe that’s where the issue within the music industries lie: the operations of popular music within the independent and DIY industries have changed, but the way in which people consume music has not. The behaviour and practices of the creators have evolved, to suit taste; technological developments; and funding issues, but people still look to T.V, radio and the top 40 chart to find stuff to listen to (all places in which independent music does not tend to live).

So, what I’m trying to say… or at least what I think I’m trying to say because, let’s face it, who knows at this point… is that, for the music industries, or more importantly the independent and DIY music industries to become more prominent, user behaviour needs to change. Something which is not in the control of the industries. Or is it…? Much like Netflix has appeared and saved the television series, the music industries needs a catalyst for increasing value and engagement in new music.

This is something that would probably be best looked into fully, as opposed to the superficial grazing I’ve given it in this blog. I just needed to air my brain out of these thoughts, and hopefully make a little sense while doing so. I’ll stop now.

P.S. no, streaming services are not enough.

 

A FabLabulous Time…

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I’ve used that pun far too many times already, but why stop now?!

Last week saw an exciting workshop with Unlimited Lab at FabLab London. We were tasked with developing a product which made use of (or up-cycled) a household item, helping to reduce waste. An issue we found was with headphones: the expense of replacing them; the difficulty in recycling them; and the wastefulness of having perfectly functioning speakers but being unable to use them due to a broken headband.

So… we developed a universal replacement headphone band, able to be applied to any headphone speakers. To begin developing our idea, we tried our hand at a spot of rapid prototyping. This is something I hadn’t done before and, admittedly, I was really overthinking it at first. We began by addressing how we can make the product universal, and considered enabling the user to completely customise their new headphone band, adding another value. I, personally, then became fixed on how the band would be attached to the speakers and started sketching out sliding and clipping mechanisms, all very fiddly and much too complex for a minimum viable product.

It was then, very helpfully, pointed out to us that the purpose of the initial prototype is simply to illustrate what it is and how it will work- i.e. it doesn’t have to be fully functioning. This little nugget of wisdom gave us the confidence to go with our gut and fling together (although it was much more considered than just being flung) multiple versions to test. We began with a cardboard version, then tried two ways of representing our ideas for attaching the band to the speakers- one using balloons to depict a silicone, up-shaped sleeve which would pop over the speaker. These were then developed into a 2D drawing of the template, which was cut out of plywood using a laser cutter. The plywood was made flexible by adding cuts, on alternating sides and without going all the way across, along the length of the band. This allowed the band to be able to be bent over the head, attached to the speakers using the balloons and made an effective and, arguably, comfortable prototype.

This session with Unlimited Lab provided invaluable lessons in how to test ideas in the most time and economically efficient way. I, for one, certainly learned that it is not necessary to dig right into the finer details when developing the first prototype. The clue is in the name: rapid prototyping. The experience we have gained through this workshop will prove incredibly beneficial when it comes to developing the products of our start-ups.

Frieze! Stop right there!

Before we go any further, let’s think. Is there a difference between art galleries and art fairs? Surely they’re one in the same? As galleries exhibit their collections at art fairs in hopes of selling, the fairs must draw the same audience as the respective galleries, right? A recent trip to Frieze Art Fair in London provided some interesting insights into this topic…

Frieze is a world renowned art fair, desirable in the eye of the biggest galleries and the newcomers; exhibitors and patrons alike. Although it was difficult not to enjoy the art on show, our intentions at the fair were to explore its workings from a business perspective. Ultimately, we were trying to answer the question: who is the audience? After spending most of the day people-watching, my observations have offered a few suggestions.

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The most interesting observation I made was that of the behaviour around the above piece. As you can see, it’s a mirrored box containing a neon light stating ‘SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT YOU.’ Upon approaching this piece, I noticed there was quite a queue. Not thinking much of it at first, I snapped a quick picture from as close as I could get and stepped back out of the way again. It was then that I noticed what the queue was for. People were lining up to get directly in front of the piece to take a ‘selfie’ in it.

Now, this was curious for two reasons. Firstly, they weren’t making it obvious that they were lining up for this reason. They were all just subtly falling into a queue trying to ignore their intentions. Secondly, it sparked the question of why they were there and which version of themselves were they presenting? As the purchase of this range of art is inaccessible to most, I think it would be fair to assume that many of the visitors on this day at Frieze were not there to buy. So, with this interesting behaviour in mind, could we conclude that the reason these people were at the fair was, although they clearly would have had some interest in art, to feed their identity or, further, their online identity.

‘Selfies’ are a phenomena of the 2010s, used as a tool for autonomy; self-perception; self-esteem; and self-promotion on various social media platforms. Over recent years, people have developed an intimate relationship with social media and have become experts in crafting an idealised persona, displaying themselves and their lives through a filtered lens. This observation of the Frieze art fair appears to be a manifestation of this behaviour, offering the conclusion that the audience (or at least a representative proportion of it) was there to massage their online personas and present another facet of their image. They were present at the fair to say ‘look at what I did today! I’m exclusive! I’m cultural! I’m part of the social elite!’

Although I’m conscious of the length of this post already (thank you for sticking with me),  I’d like to offer an extended perspective on this. Considering the digital age in which we live and the rise of virtual and augmented reality technologies, we can further question the need and prominence of fairs such as Frieze. In light of what has been discussed above, I would be inclined to suggest that it has something to do with exclusivity. Visitors want to be able to say they were there, and this somehow gives them an advantage over those who were not; a sort of one-upmanship. This could then expand into the increasing prominence of selling not products, but experiences (think Coca-Cola not selling a bottle of coke but selling ‘Enjoy a Coke with friends’) but that is a discussion for another time…

How might we…?

Value. What is value? What is it that makes something valuable? The subjectivity of this abstract noun has been playing on my mind since our Design Thinking session last week. We were introduced to the processes of analytical vs design thinking, and discussed how each is used in order to create a product or service.

Analytical thinking is a standard practice. Throughout our entire school careers, we are taught to analyse, hypothesise and deduce. We understand how to predict the result of conditions which provide a ‘what’ and a ‘how’. We know how to take what we have, and the result we want, and create the ‘how’ in order to make it happen.

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However, design thinking processes help us to unlock the next level of our creativity. As Alice and Janja have taught us, design thinking encourages us to work toward an aspired value, not an observed result. We must find something which our users will find valuable, then create the ‘what’ and the ‘how.’ Ultimately, we are creating something specifically for our users which is going to make life better for them in some way, something which they will find valuable and actually use. It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Understanding this makes you wonder why all businesses aren’t using it and haven’t been using it forever.

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Design thinking is a concept which still seems relatively new and is not always understood; perhaps because it is often attempted to be applied without first reading into the deeper theory, or without wholeheartedly wanting to create something for people.

To exercise this, we were tasked with rethinking the shoe. We were unleashed on to the students of Kingston University, investigating their choice of footwear. After many confused faces, and one girl looking at me as if I’d walked into her house on Christmas day and thew up on her coffee table, we found that a common value held by the students we spoke to was being able to keep up with current trends, while on a budget.

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We decided to create a subscription service which would allow users to select new styles of shoes to be delivered to them as frequently as they wished. They would be able to choose the style (of five current trends), personalise them by selecting the colour and any accessories, and have them delivered to their home. It would be a budget-friendly way of being able to stay up to date with the fashions and express their own personalities.

If we hadn’t have first gone out to terrorise, I mean, talk to our potential users, we would have probably designed a futuristic shoe which changed with the weather. However, if we’d have then tried to sell that to the users we spoke to, they wouldn’t have bought it. Why? Because it wouldn’t have met their values.

This is something which is going to be permanently adhered to the forefront of my mind (I’ve now got the word ‘value’ imprinted onto the back of my eyelids), and will be essential in developing our group business ideas. It seems so obvious now, but it really does take a curve ball smacking you right in the face to break you out of the thought processes you were taught to use at school.

 

Fresh Perspectives

As it is unavoidable, it may be best to first address how awkward new beginnings are. Whether that be the early days of a relationship; the induction of a new degree programme; or the very first post on a new blog, it is no unusual thing to feel a little unsure of yourself when standing on the precipice of a new experience. However, in spite of the anxiety and inevitable awkward silences, it is undeniable the sense of excitement and anticipation with which these circumstances present us.

The first two weeks of the MA Creative Economy course have passed as quickly as they arrived, and have left exciting new answers to age old questions in their wake. Already the differences within the team have proven themselves to be exactly the things which unite us, spurring me to rethink and reimagine all perceptions I had on the world. Hearing each team members motivations; what their goals were; and what was driving them to achieve them, caused me to reflect on what exactly had brought me here. Whether it was intentional or not (and, knowing Janja, I’m going to say it was intentional) the very fabric of the induction week, and the events and exercises which were packed into it, was developed with design thinking in mind. The beautiful thing is that, within that, it has perfectly demonstrated to us exactly what it is we are learning to do: to think about people; to be empathetic; and to look at the world from someone else’s perspective.

To reflect on the induction experience, let me introduce you to Margaret…

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Margaret’s profile expresses some of the thoughts and worries which wind around the minds of many new students. She is worried that she won’t make friends and, consequently, won’t form a solid team for the design thinking module. She is excited to start learning and earn herself a masters degree, but she is worried that she will find it too hard.

Forgetting all the classes, group lunches and events attended together, the Start-Up Weekend alone addressed all of these issues. Each and every person was able to find a group based on a similar interest (in this case, a customer profile) and immediately had something to talk about: breaking the ice almost instantly. Although the workshop was difficult and introduced many new concepts, it demonstrated the most daunting part of the process. To paraphrase what Janja said at the end: we had been through the almost the entire process in two days, so there is no saying that any of us won’t be able to be successful in it over the course of the year. This, and I know I can’t speak for everybody, alleviated a great deal of the anxieties presented by such an intense module. It can safely be said that the induction week was designed with the anxious student in mind and was the perfect segway into the course.

With a fresh perspective and accelerated ambition, I welcome the hard work of the upcoming year with open arms.

 

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