Recently I took part in a workshop aimed at getting down and dirty on the business model and perking out the social impact of the business.
I took part in order to figure out how to make a better business out of taliaYsebastian. We work in product design for social business, are pretty darn good at it, but quite honestly suck at the business part. When it comes to business, we´re still in our baby socks whilst others with (sometimes) meagre "products" (more on that later) can walk it out in stilettos.
Really, what it goes down to is that in the world of design and the world of business, two completely different languages are being spoken, often using (or misusing) the same vocabulary but applying a different meaning to them. It´s very confusing, sometimes particularly irritating, and quite honestly probably the reason why, according to Harmut Esslinger, designers in Austria are making a pitiful average of 16,000 euros a year.
But i didn't get into this business of making a business as a choice "below-the-minimum-wager". I got into making my own studio for the reason stated in this picture below:
Its a statement made by Design That Matters CEO Timothy Prestero, and I cant keep stressing enough the need to use creativity ... well, .... creatively. We didn´t study the tools of design to then become an ant in an ant hill. How can we use these tools to actually DO something MEANINGFUL for humanity, and also for ourselves....
Last year, thanks to a fantastic and invaluable series of lectures and workshops at the MAK - Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, the vocabulary started to click-in about the value of design. For sure, we as practitioners understand the value without the need for words, but communication is everything is our field - particularly when talking to people outside it (so basically practically anybody). Particularly for my studio, being able to communicate the social value in design is paramount.
This year, my challenge is to become the business savvy social impact design studio in Vienna. So here at the beginning of Spring, in the middle of my research on how to scale, how to appeal to those companies "out there" needing our studio´s skills, how to generate more income so that I can harvest that younger design talent out there needing jobs and meaningful projects to work on, and so on and so forth, I´m wondering if really the problem to my question lies in the fact that I´m based in Vienna. I don´t want it to, but it might just be.
In the following three months I´m going to build up a second dictionary/thesaurus/encyclopedia in my mind - one for design I already own, and one for business I need to cultivate. One on my right and one on my left. Funnily enough both dictionaries contain the word "product", but the meaning and connotation are radically different. That´s where the lost in translation, when talking to investors, starts. In the following three months, taliaYsebastian is going to become an investment-ready power house. Or at least be able to have tea with left-brainers.
Sitting down and painting the big picture in my head - of the two worlds (of business and design), the stars and the milky way that eventually reminds them they are one and the same - will hopefully help me understand if Vienna is just the place for a studio like ours, or not. How come the rest of the world is able to support growing design enterprises who generate meaningful impact and create jobs, and Vienna not?
What strikes me the most is the amount of money the city gives out for the creative industries, compared to the lack of business these studios are able to generate once the funding money is over. Our studio is one of the lucky ones since we have received a fabulous funding for the next two years for a super project. And people ask: "Talia, what´s the worry? you´ve got that big departure funding". And I think : "yes, i do, and it´s amazing. but in 2 years, what then? once the funding is over the anxiety starts again, the need to find a new project and all the hard work behind it to get it funded. But i want a sustainable studio. One where when I go on holiday, or I´m sick, or I need time out, or I need to look after my parents, or maybe even become a mom, doesn´t have to shut down totally and be put on hold until the emergency is over."
I enjoy working super hard, and I´m really up to it in order to generate enough demand for my studio´s work that I can offer a more continuous need for those talented people who come in to work on various strategic stages of a project, and deliver quality projects with real social impact. In order for it to be a living, breathing, self-sustaining studio.
So back to my questions: How can we use these tools to actually DO something MEANINGFUL for humanity, and also for ourselves.... and do that in VIENNA ? How do we designers working in Vienna dig ourselves out of being social cases ourselves? How do we work the business circuit without losing our integrity? Or rather, how do we work the business circuit to increase the impact of our valuable design tools and design insights, and really communicate the value of design?
Can a design studio really be sustainable financially in a place like Vienna? What does it take? I have 3 months to find out.