Week 11 – Artifact or Fiction

Week 11 – Artifact or Fiction

I have – for lack of a more defined term – a friend called Steve. Steve is an entrepreneur. He is also a trained designer. He started and runs The Los Angeles River, which is a tattoo shop that also sells a bit of merch. He is a voracious creator of online content for social media (which he believes is everyone’s duty to do.) and is always looking for more ways to grow, and more ways to connect with an or his audience. He started while still a student, buying cheap shirts and adding his label on the inside, ripping off the NFL’s Raiders’ logo and printing it on affordable sweatshirts, and sponsoring a Snowboard posse. None of these really took off. However, while travelling through Norway, Bali and Costa Rica, he would post the tattoos that he was creating, a style that was frequently derided in comments as being too lame, or ignorant, or amateurish. But Steve kept posting and kept getting gigs in tattoo shops, and he would announce his time spent there as if it were a rare treat, ‘Yo, a few more spots available for Austin, come thru. DM me’ And it worked, suddenly (or actually, after quite a while) a lot of people wanted exactly his style of tattoo from him. He has now settled in Los Angeles and is maybe opening his third tattoo shop soon. He also has added in the merchandise from earlier attempts such as sweater and prints and surfboards, so that – as he says it – those that can’t travel to his shop to get a tattoo can still be part/buy into of the LA River lifestyle. He collaborates with (is paid by) brands like Adidas who pay him five-figure sums to wear their wares and post about it.

Steve’s Social Media posts have now started to change; firstly, they have a lot higher production values and while he still posts tattoos, he focuses on his lifestyle, the struggle and hustle – the BTS (as is the parlance) things like ‘The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.’ Or ‘If you aren’t constantly working on being the best, know that someone else is’ and –at times – verge on the inspirational, self-help and his take on his rag to riches story, with some slight tweaks and omissions (I am not sure if he was a high-school drop-out, but I do know that he has a university degree). Much like Chris Do and Jose Caballeros who actually name the fictional, mythical, and cynical concept of the American Dream (which is mostly a nightmare,) a certain type of Entrepreneur – and it might be most of them love, LOVE their story of triumph over adversity. It’s like a fetish, and we buy into the myths of them succeeded, because if they did it, so can we, and this time next year we’ll be millionaires, and then the books. The Follow-these-simple-rules and-I-will-make-you-rich kind of books. One of the rules is almost always learning from failures. What kind of rules are you writing that will lead to failure? I can do that on my own.

But my point is not as glib as that. My point is that something that worked for a heavily tattooed, daring, SoCal surfer/skater with devil-may-care attitude won’t work for someone, well, like me. I get building a following even before you have a product, keeping them engaged and using them even as a sounding board, user tests and feedback. And more and more consumers want to identify with the values, vision and personalities of brands Steve’s success was due to a lot of effort, but there is a stochastic process at work too. For all of us, I guess, one could argue. I could follow all of Steve’s advice, which is always happy to dispense, and I would look like a fool. To be one in a million, there has to be a million somewhere.

I have ‘known’ Melody Avecilla for four years. When I first met her she was a student who had an idea. That is all, an idea – heels that turn into flats. She identified a problem that she had had as a flight attendant, extrapolated from that (through research) that other women might have the same problem and decided she wanted to create a solution for these women. She is not a designer, she just decided she could figure this out. She took every tiny piece of knowledge gained through that one entrepreneurship class, used it like an Ikea instruction manual and launched herself into someone who kept learning and challenging herself and others. I coincidentally saw her just last week, and after four years, after travelling thousands of miles across the United States meeting with IDEO, designers, show makers, reclusive shoe doctors, Silicon Valley engineers, taking shoemaker courses, producing multiple prototypes, and going through four series of fundraising, while somehow finding a way to show up in stories ranging from Forbes to the Daily Mail (eww), she finally has a product. And it might still fail completely. At which point I have no doubt she will start something else….or pivot.

Sidenote: I find it interesting that both Steve and Melody, who are are merely two opposite examples of many, both chose company names that are incredibly difficult to find when googling.

One of the reasons that there are so many books and lectures and workshops and videos is because, for every statement made, an exception can be found, and another book/video published. For every ‘Bite of more than you can chew’ there is a ‘know your limits’ (which is sort of what I am doing here every week) Be too specific and it won’t apply to you, you’re going to need a different book/video/class. Be too vague, and I can keep re-packaging that and churn out another book/video/workshop. In addition, as exemplified by this week’s reading, the times they are a-changing, There is a whole chapter on Google AdWords, which no longer exists for a number of reasons (Adblockers, shift to mobile)…Antony might be working on a new book right now. Or he is too busy cashing in on the lecture circuit. The current US President claims to be a great businessman (he isn’t) self-made (he wasn’t) and has put out books, this is how the scam of Trump University comes about. contemporary entrepreneurship will soon be in the self-help section.

Building a following on any platform is definitely good advice, in many ways Kickstarter has commodified this and created a following who are literally invested, but Kickstarter (and others) are often just a means of generating pre-sales, whether there is an organic transition to genuine followers seems less likely.

There are probably some truths that apply to all enterprise. Understanding who you are and what you do

Know why you are doing what for whom, and where
Know who else is doing identical or similar things
Know how you are going to finance it

(Don’t take no for an answer)

Optional: Write a book or create a youtube channel about your experience

All of those involves a lot of research – which form that research takes will depend on the individual enterprise. The research itself demands research. Social media is probably of little use if your ideal customer is not a social media user. Surveys won’t work if users frequently lie about the topic you are researching. Observational research is going to be tricky if you are researching…toilet paper or condoms use, or anything else that reminds us that we are animals. Primary and secondary research can be of equal value, again, depending on what you are trying to do. VCs, Angel investors, bank loans, strategic partners, government grants are all good sources of financing but definitely not for every situation or business.

So many books, so many ‘experts’ as there is not one way, it is ultimately conceiving a child and raising it. There is more to it than not smoking or drinking, not eating fish or unpasteurised cheese, or once it is born feeding it the correct diet, there are some things that are beyond the control of parents, and there are things that are beyond the control of a business owner, founder, entrepreneur. If you had launched your middle east adventure tours program on September 12 2001, you probably would not have had enough success. Is there enough data to allow for all eventualities, probably not yet.

The Artifact

An example of design/art overlap, or actually, a couple of examples of this to generate a discussion and see if there is any interest in this arena from both a practitioner (creation) as well as consumer (buying/viewing) standpoint.

I (quickly and somewhat arbitrarily) bought some old letterpress blocks. These were once definitely part of a graphic design related business, a print shop, advertising in newspapers, packaging, production, or something I will never know.

The graphic design happened prior to the creation of the blocks themselves. There is something interesting about these redundant pieces of a former production technique. so my plan is to print the blocks, scan the print, enlarge it and print (possibly screenprint) them at ten times their original size to highlight all the flaws and reveal halftone dots and patterns.

There is another element of this project that is not coincidental; namely that it is somewhat collaborative, and questions copyright and ownership. Assuming that there was a designer who created the artwork prior to the block being made, the production of my final pieces would involve the work of at least three individuals, two of whom may never know about it. Mostly, I am pretty sure that it would fall under fair use, but could a mere reproduction of someone else’s work be considered copyright infringement, how much transformation is needed for it to move away from its former context as well as closer to but not completely into art.

In many ways, the artefact is not just the printed piece or pieces, but the dissemination of them, the medium or multiple media in which they are viewed and or seen.

I currently have two physical locations in mind. LY gallery in the Los Angeles Art’s District, and Clean Aesthetic a mix of clothing and art store in Playa Del Rey, the owners of both of which are open to the idea pending seeing final outputs

Research Insights
Anecdotally, I know that every designer and/or artist has an opinion on the topic of art vs design. Everyone I have spoken to specifically recently and specifically about this has an (at the very least, latent) active interested in this topic. On the one hand, it is a fertile ground for interaction and dialogue, on the other, designers and artists can also be dismissive and feign disinterest about any work within this murky area. At times, the mere question of what art is – let alone what the difference between art and design – is met with strong and heavy eye-rolling, or a ‘this is a conversation for over drinks’ response. My research certainly suggests that it does trigger strong and engaged opinions.

Target Audience
The target audience is two-fold. It is aimed at potential buyers, but that is almost secondary. This is aimed at fellow designers and galleries. Designers to start either a dialogue, make connections or begin the process of collaboration or shared endeavour, and galleries in order to create work that they would want to show.

Consumers want to buy art, they will buy a designer chair, a designer handbag, but seldom does a designer poster or designer book light up the limbic system of a potential customer; art, on the other hand, is something people (I am generalising for a reason) do want to be associated with. This makes traditional marketing a bit tricky. It’s not that I don’t want people to desire my work, but I don’t care if they like it, I am not user testing an ergonomic new mouse.

I do want, however, want my work to be seen and provoke a reaction, positive or negative

Distribution Channels – Galleries vs. Stores
I don’t think stores and galleries are diametrically opposed, but I would (somewhat obviously) want my pieces to be available in both realms. I spoke to the owner of the LY Galerry, Linda Yun, who would be interested in showing the work depending on the actual pieces that emerge, but she does have a professed interest in the overlap of design and art.

I also spoke to one of the owners of Clean Aesthetic, Charlie Carroll, whose corporate day job is as a Graphic Designer for Abercrombie & Fitch in Ohio, but whose passion lies in art prints and co-owns a store selling prints and printed t-shirts in Playa Del Rey, California.

Both businesses would be good as outlets for purchase, distribution, but the two individuals would be better as collaborators; that is what I am really after – they would certainly be invited to the design suppers. Charlie sees art and design as analogous with ‘emotion and logic, separate but informing of each other,’ while Linda is interested in the inner workings of the ‘disentanglement of art and design within the creator’s process.

In addition, I did create a separate Instagram account to show my process and outcomes. And once my toes uncurl, I will start to generate content so that I can have steady and frequent updates, at which time I will seek out potential followers and followees. As much as I hate the idea of social media as a means to an end, maybe it can be treated as a 21st-century peer-review. Although, I don’t think I will be sending anything to Stefan Sagmeister’s review show. Having said that, there are many blogs and Instagram accounts that should be harnassed for their reach. Friends and family are a good start, but one of the successful Kickstarter campaigns that I was involved with focused a lot of energy and time reaching out to blogs and youtube channels. While friends and family are a good start it is important to use all possible channels to engage potential customers. If a tree falls on Kickstarter and no one is….wait, this doesn’t sound right.

Production challenges
There are the production challenges of the pieces in the real world and the challenges of production within (eek) the 8 days that are left in this module. First the latter. The challenge is mostly time and equipment. Working with the most basic of tools within a tight timeframe does concern me. There might just not be enough time to go through two time-consuming print processes within the time frame, so screen printing might, MIGHT, have to be either faked or substituted with a digital printing output.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a series of pieces, that challenge the classification of art vs design. It should not just one process, and ideally not just one designer creator. The challenge for me to create pieces that I believe fit within this utopian Venn overlap is just time and money, and not even that much money. The real challenge is going to be finding, engaging, and coaxing others to create work that illustrates their beliefs on art and design. I am confident I can find individuals willing to create work for the sake of creating work, I am not as confident, yet still optimistic, that they will follow through with the creation. I can be pretty persuasive and am owed quite a few favours.

Zane Grey Hound

‘Hoofs’ was once correct.
Cruel sports.

But there is no guarantee. Frequently, or maybe sometimes, ideas pivot after launch. post-its.

Adidas, Puma, Nike all make the same product and demographically target the same audience, but psychographics play a role and positioning

Building connections with those that share philosophy and value

Buying into a lifestyle

design is rational, but the user is frequently emotional

Search goods vs experience goods

Understanding that technology moves quicker than our usual timeline

Building connections prior to launch or success, and maintaining connection after the sale, this is in the sense of a car service, new leases, deals, or in lifestyle through inclusiveness, sharing and storytelling

Value vs profit, research for research sake, invention leads to business the Wright brothers weren’t researching traveller needs
understanding either what problem you are seeking to solve
or understanding the total potential of your service or product and being willing to pivot when opportunities become evident

trend understanding, cultural, technological, social, legal,

SWOT analysis,

Marketing mix of Product, place, positioning, price, etc
survey and observation, which should lead to insights, which in turn should learn to positioning and branding
market overview
competitive analysis
test and iteration
aligning values with investors, backers, supporters and members

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