Think like a Designer, Act like an Entrepreneur
Posted on February 26, 2013
Kimming Yap, SINGAPORE
Co-Founder/Designer at Creativeans
People working in teams understand that team dynamics can either make or break a project. Habits that help to bring order to spurts of creativity while rotating leadership roles ensure that no egos are bruised. A high level of trust and respect for your teammates seem necessary but may not be enough, according to award-winning design firm Creativeans. Formed by 3 students and an industrial design lecturer, there is something special about the story of their business partnership, which was born right in the schoolyard, has weathered many stormy years and is setting sail for greater adventures.
Tell us about your brand and the idea behind it?
Creativeans is an award-winning design firm based in Milan and Singapore. We help our partners develop game changing brand, innovation and design. We believe in challenging the status quos to create innovative and meaningful solutions; mixing the right blend of art and pragmatism to concoct great experiences. We are a service provider, which started our line of lifestyle goods in 2010 through self-initiated projects.
As designers we constantly feel the urge to create. We decided to start our own line of lifestyle products as we noticed such strong interest in Asian design from the international design community whenever we would exhibit in Europe.
Tell us about your previous working situation and did you have a background in design?
I initially had my industrial design training at Nanyang Polytechnic in Singapore. After which, I then decided to get a Masters in Design in Italy’s Domus Academy. I worked in Italy for a few years with a Japanese firm before moving back to Singapore to set-up Creativeans with 3 of my friends.
Studying and working in Italy changed the way I see design. My classmates came from a diverse range of backgrounds; I had younger peers who were driven to relocate and work overseas, and I also had a classmate who was running a design studio in China and studying at the same time. I was at the epicentre of art and design; there were hundreds of artist and designers trying to get their work discovered out there. Importantly, even if they were struggling, they were still trying. Everyone is motivated to push the boundaries of design and outdo each other. To me, that was very inspiring.
What is your favourite part in the process of designing?
I enjoy the entire design process: from ideation to a working product in the hands of users. We are also intrigued by the interactions users share with our designs, and being able to gather feedback from users, and seeing the products we create actually being utilised has been extremely rewarding for me.
Have you done any collaboration that you are proud of so far?
I am most proud of the collaboration with Khairul Hussin (previously our lecturer), Sharina Bi and Yulia Saksen, with whom we began as an informal collective that developed creative projects for pastimes and exhibitions. Our team chemistry, common ideologies, and dedication towards design have all been instrumental in establishing Creativeans as a company that enables its partners to orchestrate design, brand, and business.
How do you work with your partners/co-founders?
They are my best sounding board. We always come together to brainstorm and the difference in opinions usually helps to improve the project. Each of us leads a commercial project we undertake and makes the final decision in the approach.
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
So how are these designs realised in the first place?
Most of our designs start as a prototype that’s made by hand. For example, the Chapter 57 lamp was carved from a piece of woodblock by hand at an interim workshop set-up right outside our office space. We then went through the process of obtaining a 3D model from an industrial-grade 3D scanner. The 3D model allows us to modify the form and refine it to support its technical function. For example, we have to thicken the central piece to balance the entire form as we’re using a lighter material in the final production. We then mass-produce it in small batches, some of which we will showcase in exhibitions.
Where does your creative/design inclination come from?
We are constantly inspired by our surroundings, including the sights and sounds of local culture. Sometimes, creativity is triggered by current issues and we interpret it in a contemporary manner in our designs.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
I think that entrepreneurship is something that you do and you’ll find it hard to go back to a day job (laughs). [Usually,] I work 6 days a week. Depending on deadlines from commercial projects, my team and I do come to the office on Sundays as well.
What’s the first thing that gets you excited in the morning when you wake up?
That I am going to work on projects that will change people’s lives bit by bit.
What are some of the things you do on a daily basis which keeps you happy?
Freshly brewed coffee in the morning, energetic discussions with colleagues and clients at work, and a proper dinner with loved ones in the evening.
What are your best marketing tips to grow a brand?
We haven’t spent money in marketing, although we do type and send out our own press releases. Majority of our exposure come from magazine and blog features.
If you’re an industrial designer, my best advice is to try for a product launch at an international exhibition. The benefits are twofold: you can observe what your industry peers are doing and you can get feedback from potential users and customers. We found that it has been most beneficial as designers to show and put our designs out there, get feedback, and from which we can improve our designs.
What tool or technique has been most effective in getting buyers for your products?
Retail buyers and distributors from exhibitions we participate in.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business? What’s the most exciting part?
Mastering the business of design is very different from being an employed designer, and that seems to be the hardest part for me. Instead of selling a design to your boss, you’re now selling it to a paying client. Instead of immersing yourself in the process of executing your creative works, you now have to spend time looking for clients. As designers, we try to be creative and innovative, but commercial work can’t always fulfil those ideal expectations. In the end, running a business involves including Return of Investment (ROI) and taking care of the bottom-line as part of the decision-making process.
The most exciting part of running a business is that there are just immense possibilities and opportunities out there. Recently we began engaging in something I would term as ‘Design Venture Capitalism.’ Just as a Venture Capitalist would invest time and money in helping start-ups grow, we are investing our expertise and experience, and collaborating through partnerships to bring an idea to market.
An example would be collaboration with a local manufacturer we are working with to launch a product. We are combining our expertise and experience in design with industrial grade production capabilities to bring a product into the market. The reward will probably come much later in the form of shared revenues if the market responds well to the product.
Who are your greatest pillar(s) of support in your life right now?
I am thankful for my family members who had given their full support to my career in design (after they understood what I was doing!). I am also thankful for the fellow entrepreneurs and designers that I meet on a regular basis, gathering sound advice and gaining insights.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar path?
Just give it a shot. As a designer with skills, you can start as a service provider, which is not capital intensive at all and reduces your risks substantially. Be patient as you go out there to share your design as it takes time for people to know you. You can’t stop halfway. Think out of the box in forms and concepts and keep challenging your boundaries.
We try to exhibit our products once a year and that keeps us on a schedule to keep creating as designers.
Is there an ultimate vision or plan for your business?
When a native from Europe visits our exhibition booth, they’re often surprised that Singapore produces its own product design. They shared that we’re (Singapore) known more for our financial industry or Formula One night races. My team and I are hoping to shift that mind-set and help do our part in putting Singapore on the world map as a design hub.
In time, we hope local companies will also understand that design extends beyond just marketing and branding, and see its value in contributing to the business as a whole. The local government has been very supportive of these endeavours by providing connections and financial aid in these 2 areas to both design consultancies and local businesses.
Could you recommend three songs or songwriters that inspire your work?
I am more inspired by people, culture and conversations.
What are you currently working on?
We are launching new products for 2 lifestyle brands, Artifeq and Nuuzo at Milan Salone del Mobile, this April. We are also involved in SingaPlural 2013 this March, wherein we will be producing a public installation, Bird Rack, for Design Larger Than Life. We are concurrently working on ad-hoc projects in the fields of electronics, cosmetics, F&B, public space, and event curation.