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Reflective Essay

It is hard to believe that the Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship in Practice module has ended. Although the journey was challenging, yet turbulent and at times enjoyable, it taught me various fundamental lessons about working in collaborative teams and running a start-up business. The opportunity to transform a creative idea into a business was a welcomed challenge and eagerly anticipated, in spite of not feeling fully prepared for the expedition. My entrepreneurship team of five members naturally gravitated together, on the basis of our energy levels, cultural diversity, range of specialist skills and various interests. It was a fascinating mix of people that sustained levels of communication and fun throughout the process, despite our personal difference of opinions. Admittedly, it is not an easy task being receptive. However, I have learnt the importance of being adaptable and accepting of ideas from group participation.

Brainstorming

The spontaneous groups discussions were enjoyable, and allowed me to unleash my creative thoughts in a non- linear way. I learnt several valuable lessons from the brainstorming exercise, which I improved on throughout the creative process. Firstly, it taught me to appreciate and value the power of many minds by way of effective teamwork. The natural exchange of ideas was conducive to filtering through various stages of our working progress. This was achieved from producing rough visuals and sketches, playing word association games and conducting market research. I realised that documenting our natural thinking progression was imperative to the development, and provided a reference point whenever our creative juices were completely sapped or exhausted.

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The second lesson learnt, was having the courage and freedom to volunteer any idea, irrespective of the general response. Easier said than done, when you are left feeling vulnerable and slightly exposed as a direct result. Hence, I have managed to overcome the fear, and in return I am more receptive to the positive outcomes of collaborative work, which can benefit effective learning. The upshot of our brainstorming session resulted with sitonit. A portable, waterproof, cushioned mat for outdoor daily use, that conveniently fits into your everyday bag.  “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new” (Einstein, 2012).

Research

Without doubt, I began the module with pre-conceived ideals about design on the whole, and how it fits into the creative industries. However, the module adjusted my conditioned thinking and challenged the conventional approach towards resolving a design problem. It was fascinating to question the rationale behind design, by focusing on the main objective of consumer needs. The principles of the Activity Theory framework, previously discussed in the module provided an insight into the correlation between the user, the designer and the community. Subsequently this was useful information, in terms of understanding the user cognitive, emotional and physical needs when creating a viable business product. Also, learning to build empathy with an audience from observation skills was an invaluable exercise. It allowed me to closely examine consumer behaviour in everyday situations, by identifying their emotional, cognitive and physical needs. I experienced the impact of developing a rapport with an audience in order to identify a problem and generate alternative solutions that fulfil their requirements.

Prototyping

Although brainstorming and market research were crucial stages, the relevance of prototyping was equally important. Although it may seem obvious, it goes without saying that I was naive in thinking we could launch a product, purely based on a hunch and personal preferences. I now realise how easy it can be to predict and follow through an improbable outcome, without taking into account the users needs. The experiment of relentless prototyping various sitonits demonstrated how pre-testing initial ideas at different stages of development, not only generates consumer feedback, but in the long run saves time, money and concerted effort. Consequently, we had to rethink our financial strategy by altering the investment cost and pricing. For that reason, the product was slightly modified by reducing the cushioned filler to make it less bulky. There was also an additional strap added to ensure the mat could condense into a smaller convenient size.

It was a very creative and experiment that pushed boundaries and forced me to think outside of the box in order to resolve a problem. Kalina’s blog (2012) states “On the other hand, unproductive constraints are those, which can not be overcome by simply having novel ideas, as they depend on the internal abilities and commitment of the team of people”.

Art Fairs

Visiting The Tent London Exhibition, Designers Block, and Frieze art fair played an integral role in developing a better understanding of how the creative industries work. The art fairs and trade shows were a great opportunity to explore the strong correlation between ‘business’ and the ‘arts’. It was reassuring to see the different creative platforms, which showcased artwork of talented artists and designers. I was intrigued and impressed by the broad spectrum of innovative work that had varying degrees of consumer interaction and met various user needs. Although each event had it’s own uniqueness, the overarching feeling of vigorous energy, excitement and appreciation for the arts was prevalent throughout every occasion. On the basis of the artefacts and installations displayed, I felt comforted by the notion that sitonit had huge potential for commercial success, with the right marketing strategy and communication tools. It led me to believe that armed with the key learnings and skills acquired from the Design Thinking module, it is possible to market almost product.

Marketing and Communication

The targeting and positioning for sitonit encountered difficulties in the initial stages of development. It was mainly a direct result of not having a clearly defined target audience. It is fair to say that we tried to be all things to everyone, which is nigh on impossible in the world of marketing. Fill (2009) states, “Segmentation is necessary because a single product is unlikely to meet the needs of all customers in a mass market”.

Once this issue was resolved, the decision to communicate through social media seemed like a natural fit for our audience. Our strategy consisted of selling at trade fairs, creating brand awareness through social media, and generating word of mouth by way of third party endorsements. I can verify that the team effort behind the marketing was unyielding in achieving the best results for our product. The endless discussions, impromptu meetings, rewards conflict and disappointment were accepted as essential fundamentals that had to be experienced. The marketing communication advanced to producing a 30 second advertisement for the sitonit product with complete creative freedom. Having no boundaries is exhilarating, yet faced with a restricted budget makes it even more of a challenge.

The key lesson l gained from this exercise, is the importance of conveying the same core message in the communication across various media platforms. I became conscious of the fact that, we could have been swayed by our romanized ideals for an advertisement. Nonetheless we kept the concept straightforward and presented the product in its simplest form, using stop-motion to emphasis its features and functional purpose. The overall of the advertisement was upbeat and friendly, to reinforce the practicality in a playful way. Based on our previous learning, our main objective was to create empathy with the audience through a narrative, which evokes an emotional response and caters for the cognitive and physical user needs. I realised the value in storytelling in advertisements, which helps to make an emotional connection with your audience.

Dragons Den

I can truly say the Dragon’s Den experiences were thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding. Presenting our product to a panel of industry experts was terrifying, and yet a necessary stumbling block we had to overcome. I learnt so much from the incident, especially how to pitch an idea by highlighting the key points with visual props and product demonstrations to engage with your audience, within a limited time-span. In addition to being very familiar with a product, in order to depend any line of questioning. More importantly, the occurrence taught me to accept product flaws and defeats maybe outlined unexpectedly. During the incident, it dawned on me that when you become emotionally attached and passionate about a product, it is difficult to accept others may not share the same level of interest or enthusiasm. It was hugely beneficial to gain valuable constructive feedback from the Dragons, who outlined prominent areas of improvement. Addressing our finance and pricing strategy was a central point stressed by the Dragons. They also raised concerns around the marketing strategy. It was suggested that relying too heavily on social media for a new product was a non-entity, and should be avoided. At first I was not entirely convinced by the notion, although on self-reflection it seems they made a valid point and a compelling argument. The reasoning behind this school of thought, was having a physical presence in a retailer would resonate stronger with an audience, and helps to build a loyal customer base.

Effective Leadership

Discovering variations of leadership styles by way of a theatrical workshop was a defining moment. Piers Ibbotson delivered a dynamic and compelling perspective on the leadership process in the creative industries. The exercise questioned the conventional cultural mindset of leadership through physical exercises and group discussions. From this experience I achieved a deeper understanding on how to inspire trust, confidence and motivation in team members through the power of non-verbal communication. Without question it was the highlight of the year. Based on the fact that the experiments dealt with the detrimental effects of power struggles, derived from displaying low and high status or vying for vertical hierarchy within a group through body language, gesticulation and stature. The session had a positive and long lasting impact, which I have applied in practice to group situations. I can also envisage how these principles can be beneficial in further collaborative projects to defuse a difficult situation. Ibbotson (2008) demonstrates “Management is not science, but art. It is art in the sense that it needs to be practiced with the full self: with heart, mind and soul aligned. In business it seems to me there is both a need for and fear of this mindset”.

Trade fairs

It can be said that the gift of selling is certainly an art form. The opportunity to sell at trade fairs was deeply appreciated. I was slightly unnerved at the prospect of approaching the general public with our product, to be turned down or completely ignored. However, building empathy with people is a great bargaining tool, especially when children are present. The sitonit stall was decorated with brightly coloured fabrics and sweets to entice the consumer. It seems that our sales patter worked, as we won a prize for best sales team. From my observations skills, I can distinguish if the consumer is emotional engaged, genuinely interested, or simply engrossed in the free confectionary, to gauge whether or not to pursue driving the sale.

From the outset of the Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship in Practice module, our course tutor highlighted the emphasis of ‘networking’ and ‘putting yourself out there’. In hindsight, she was absolutely right. At this moment in time, I fully comprehend the significance and value to cease every opportunity to meet new people. Simply by attending events, exhibitions, talks, conferences, and informal social gatherings, to foster the development of building an extensive contact list. Needless to say, I would strongly encourage future Macers to maximise any opportunity to network to its full capacity. The overall experience has been incredibly enriching. The cultural diversity has played a major role and enhanced the occurrence. Interaction with people from different disciplines and various walks of life, enabled me to make a connection and partake in a shared experience. The mandatory use of social media has encouraged me to improve my online presence and create more windows of opportunities.

In retrospect, would I have done things differently? For the most part, yes, purely based on the knowledge that I am currently armed with, would be utilised from the get-to. As it stands, I feel that I have reached a crossroad deliberating over which direction to take. This module has taught me so many fundamental principles that have equipped me to deal with a range of circumstances they may occur through collaborations or business ventures. I began the course with an open creative mind and feel that I have left with an extensive repertoire to penetrate the market and embrace the realms of the creative industries.

Reference List

Einstein, A (2012) Albert Einstein Site. Available at: http://www.alberteinsteinsite.com/quotes/einsteinquotes.html#education (Accessed: 16 May 2012).

Fill, C. (2009) Marketing Communications – Interactivity, Communities and Content. Fifth Edition. Prentice Hall. UK: Pearson Education Limited.

Ibbotson, P. (2008) The Illusion of Leadership: Directing Creativity in the Business and the Arts. London: Palgrave Macmillan

Personal Branding

Announcements for the best entrepreneurship teams recently took place at the Celebrate Enterprise Awards. I attended the annual event, which celebrates the achievements and success of the collaborative business teams, from the Design Thinking module. Unfortunately, ADP missed out on the coveted title, and the opportunity to represent Kingston University at the finals in London. However, Curpy and Cuff’d were selected for the following stage, and were worthy winners based on their innovative products, profitable sales and marketing strategy that were well executed.

The programme featured guest speaker Simon Hathaway, Kingston graduate and former Regional CEO of Saatchi X. Simon is recognised as a communications expert, and delivered a dynamic and inspiring talk on Personal branding. He raised the topic of defining yourself as a product with strong brand equity and brand values. It was an interesting viewpoint, which until now, had never really occurred to me. The speaker laboured the point that creating personal branding plays an integral role in business, by way of creating emotional engagement with the audience. Nowadays the shift in power has caused consumers to have more ownership of brands. Therefore Simon empathised the importance of presenting a personal brand with one-word equity, fostered by a dominant presence through social media.

It seems that personal branding is a necessary requirement in business, and a welcomed challenge to embark upon. On self-reflection I have learnt that marketing yourself, as a brand is a valuable exercise that encourages the development of personal networking skills and enterprising opportunities.

Dragons Den Finale

After months of market research, storytelling, creating personas, building prototypes, trading and marketing the sitonit product, the journey concluded with a Dragon’s Den finale. Each business team was allocated ten minutes to deliver an elevator pitch, executive summary and overview of their achievements. ADP presented sitonit, with submission of a business report for the guest panellists. We prepared for judgment day with several practice runs to cover all bases. It was difficult to summarise the highlights, without launching into an overly descriptive narrative. Nevertheless, we stayed on schedule and connected with the panel on an emotional level.

The Dragon’s feedback mainly focused on finances, which proved to be an uncomfortable ordeal. They challenged the rationale behind the investment costs, labour and pricing, as well as dissecting the profit margins, which were insignificant. Sadly, ADP was unprepared for the onslaught of probing questions concerning our pricing strategy. Even so, the overall comments were constructive and reaffirmed our fears and beliefs; namely the financial risks, branding and marketing drawbacks that were overlooked.

A fundamental lesson learnt from this experience, was administration of an effective budget is equally important as managing the creativity and innovation process. It seems that for a business model to succeed, the outcome hinges on a watertight finance strategy to maximise profit. ADP’s misguided approach to pricing was a major challenge to conquer, and relied heavily on investments from potential sponsorships and licensing. Despite our lack of business expertise, we managed to overcome many obstacles to create a viable product with limited resources and capital. The Design Thinking module ended with a climax of celebrations. Needless to say, everyone agreed it was challenging, yet rewarding in many ways. I feel a strong sense of accomplishment, from the invaluable lesson that will be implemented to forthcoming collaborations and business ventures.

 

Sitonit Advertisement

To promote our business products, each group had to produce an advertisement lasting 30 seconds. The final commercials would be shown in a class peer review in the Design Thinking session. The challenge was exciting but incredibly daunting, merely for the reason that our team lacked expertise in filmmaking. Nevertheless, with the help of external backing, we managed to shoot, edit and finalise the postproduction in time for the screening.

The concept focused on the sitonit products as characters with personalities. It was produced with stop-motion, to portray a sense of amusement and give the animated figures the impression of movement. The location was mainly outdoors purely for the murky scenery, to offset the vibrant colours of the product. The plot was straightforward to capture the true essence of the characters, with a visual narrative of their general travels. It was essential to encapsulate the users emotional needs, by building empathy for the characters. Hence, the rapid and timely movements of the characters are synchronized with the upbeat music. The storyline engages with the user on a strong emotional level, and creates a long-lasting feel good factor. The users physical needs are conveyed by the characters interaction, which demonstrates the usability and convenience of the product.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Qm1cQKq9W4&context=C4a2e86dADvjVQa1PpcFNAFHBN5A6y3RjPeoCB-SBpCGWKeB6Y9fM=

The commercial received constructive feedback with recommendations on how to improve the overall quality and general aesthetics, as well as displaying the purchase information and contact details. The screening ended with a reflective moment. Individuals had 90 seconds to summarise their collaboration experience from working in business groups. For the most part it was a very humbling experience. I learnt to accept differences of opinion and judgement, utilise specialist skills of others, in addition to exercising patience. On self-reflection, the journey was challenging in every aspect, yet it was enjoyable, very insightful and gratifying.

Kingston Trade Fair

After disappointing sales from the first trade fair, our business company ADP was determined to recoup at the next event, located in Kingston market place. With hindsight, I realise that driving sales forward requires a step out of your comfort zone. In many ways I assumed people would naturally gravitate to our stand and purchase instantaneously. To generate sitonit sales, ADP had to change their communication strategy. The break in between trade fairs enabled us to improve the stall presentation, develop aspects of the sales pitch, and modify the product, based on consumer feedback and the Dragon’s Den assessment. Therefore, trading at the market place was an amazing opportunity to showcase the adapted product, to a wider audience alongside Young Enterprise teams.

Initially, we had to overcome the daunting prospect of approaching passer-bys, who react with a negative response. The outdoor event played to our strengths, allowing consumers to engage with a likeable, fun brand, and see the benefits of its outside use. The stall was armed with confectionery to compliment the vibrant colours of the product, and enhance the visual appeal. The public were enticed by the arrangement of goods, and consequently urged us to provide product demonstrations. The team enthusiasm was overwhelming to the point of attracting public attention, which allowed us to build empathy with the consumer and produce additional sales.

In spite of trading for only two hours, it was enough time to make a significant impact. ADP received the accolade and prize for the best sales team. The acknowledgement was testament to our concerted effort, from applying necessary adjustments to the product. In actual fact I learned a crucial lesson. Essentially, for a business to maximise product functionality, the user needs should always outweigh any lasting personal attachments the company may hold with the product.

Human Trafficking

Guest speakers Jerry Leisure from Compassion2One and Nick Sumner from the Metropolitan police recently attended a Design Thinking workshop. The lecture emphasised the brutality of various forms of human trafficking such as; sex workers, exploiting illegal immigrants, child labour, drug peddling and stealing organs for commercial gain. The class assignment was a group challenge from the University Apprentice Experience. The task required the use of design-thinking techniques, to create innovative ideas for an advertising campaign. The main objective was to change public perception on human trafficking, by raising awareness for early detection of hazardous situations.

http://vodpod.com/watch/15643882-the-world-of-human-trafficking

Therefore, we visited Kingston town centre to interview the public. On the whole, it was alarming to hear the conditioned thinking on the topic. For the most part, the harsh reality of human trafficking failed to resonate with the Kingston community. The general consensus believes human trafficking is commonly regarded as an occurrence in deprived, developing countries, and detached from everyday suburban life. There was an assumption that drastic changes were necessary, in order to make a significant difference. When in actual fact, by simply boycotting brands closely associated with trafficking, is a step in the right direction. However, the majority of people failed to see and appreciate the value, in such a small alteration to their purchase decision.

The interviews then led to brainstorming for the advertising campaign. The initial team idea focused on creating awareness through education in local communities. The main channels of distribution would be direct marketing through leaflets and outdoor advertising. The importance of education in schools, targets potential victims and outlines possible sequence of events that may lead to human trafficking. The second idea centred on a viral campaign through social networks, to play an integral role in creating word of mouth and third party endorsements. Lastly a documentary based on CCTV footage to create shock tactics, and generate awareness on a broader scale. In the end, the CCTV idea was presented and well received by the panellist.

Although the subject matter was daunting, taboo and somewhat uncomfortable to digest, it proved to be extremely interesting. It highlights the fact that being vigilant can prevent the seal of fate on someone’s life. The exercise clearly demonstrates that collaborations are crucial for co-creation and fostering the development of ideas. I achieved a greater sense of achievement for a worthy cause, based on my involvement and experience with different group dynamics.