Some of the worlds most unappreciated problem solvers
I’m writing this not from the point of view of a designer but as someone who sells design as a service. I gave up my Pantone book and Zip Disk many years ago when I set up Toward with a guy called Tom.
We knew that to make our business successful, we had to focus as much time on winning business as we did sending work out through the door.
This fate has given me a very broad perspective on our service. I now look at things not only as someone who’s passionate about good design but also from a clients less au fait view of visual communication and who has a keen eye on their wallets.
But none of that has influenced this particular post. In fact it’s a recent activity that we’ve undertaken and the response to it which has prompted this.
Recently, we announced that we were building and soon to launch a set of productivity tools called Blocks. This idea was born off the back of trying to solve one of our own problems. But before we launched I kept recalling in the back of my mind a conversation I had with a friend who is highly respected in his field. He’s a man who knows the difference between something that works and something that will probably fail. He has a great mind and is an inspirational influencer.
After meeting him for breakfast we got talking about the idea of launching a product that could be taken to market. His advice was something along the lines of “designers that cross into the world of tech will fail. They should stick to what they know.”
It made me think. What gives a team like us the right to build a product and how can I expect it to be successful enough for people to pay for it? Something that is technically complex and beautifully executed? This isn’t a place that graphic designers dare tread, or is it?
At the time I agreed, but on reflection I failed to point out the key fundamentals of what it is to be a designer. The fact that we’re all problem solvers. We’re people that we look at things creatively and simplistically.
This is why creative people aren’t usually great academics. We don’t like complications (and the education system is one big complication!) We want to know the problem and find a solution. Get to B from A with as little fuss as possible.
This isn’t about branding or graphics or websites or anything we can be pigeon holed into producing. This is about general form and function. It’s about wanting to improve, engage and simplify people’s experiences across the board.
After running a business like ours for 12 years and getting a good insight into the running of an incredibly diverse range of clients businesses, it’s fair to say that we’ve seen some terrible experiences along the way.
We’ve seen people running businesses using a complicated series of excel spreadsheets with calculations that all matched up against folders full of paper orders. We’ve seen people creating red tape in a process out of absolutely nothing. We’ve seen people get so lost in their own assumptions that they’re completely blinded from any external opinion.
To bring it closer to home; people have problems communicating a brand or selling a product online for example. Those problems bring even more constraints like having to stick to brand guidelines or building a site using a specific technology that will sit on a certain type of server. Always barriers and always constraints.
Along side that, we’ve been running our business and discovering our own set of problems. Sending out quotes, turning them into invoices, organising and tracking those. Creating jobs, projects, clients, linking them all together and keeping a close eye on them. We’ve generally been tackling the problem of productivity since we set up the business.
Whether it’s communication, productivity or process, it’s a problem that can be solved through good design and good technical ability and that is exactly what a great design team can offer.
Of course, a lot comes down to capability. If you have a team who are focused on print design and illustration then the chances are they won't be able to build a scalable product. Experience is also key so being non-sector-specific and seeing and running into problems along the way helps massively.
Our team has grown on the basis of the problems that our clients needed solving over the years. Initially it was identity and branding, graphic design then websites, reliable support, digital tool development, storytelling and content services etc. Solutions that fundamentally shaped their business model.
This is why I’m confident that our Blocks products will be a success. Our solutions will focus on beautiful and simple design. Both in brand and in process. Our technical team will deliver slick, secure and reliable functionality. We will focus on users and test the hell out of it.
Yes, we may be designers and we produce things that look good, but we also build things that work. If you take the time to sit, explain and then listen we may surprise you. Don’t pigeon hole our ability, let us prove you wrong. It’s all problem solving and that’s what we’re best at.
To find out more about Blocks and to join the mailing list visit www.blocksapp.io