A summary of thinking inspired off-the-back of a workshop hosted by MADE Labs this summer in Syracuse, Sicily. This article explores the possibility of re-contextualizing business design tools to empower creative potential.
It’s time we wake up!
Global homogenization is leaving us under a zombie spell. Industries are shifting into monopolies that generate the same stuff at scale to the masses, at an ever increasing rate. All the while media is targeting us with messages fueled by advertising logic, locking us into echo-chambers and skewed versions of curated realities.
From franchise models to Monsanto seeds — diversity within our marketplaces and communities is feeling increasingly limited, with monopoly like brands spreading their lullaby of sameness across borders.
It all makes us ask, what does our future look like if we continue down this neo-capitalist trajectory? What happens to small scale producers and businesses that operate at a slower pace? What about intangible knowledge, passed down along generations, existing outside of central hubs of power?
And then on a spiritual level — where are we to find the serendipitous moments that awaken our soul in our algorithm driven lives? The type of one-of-a-kind beauty that stirs our imagination? Or communities beyond our bubbles that help us to think a little differently, oxygen to our creativity?
A way forward
Our world is full of untapped knowledge and energy that lies outside of the central hubs of power in our global market. It is art, craft and design that will save us. The rigorous critique, diversity of thinking, poetic richness and imaginative power of the artist spirit — will be key to transporting us to a better tomorrow.
However, if we do not start working with the system we have, the fast moving train of the capitalist project will zoom right past us. And it is urgent that we catch it before it passes. We need its brute force to safeguard the very mosaic it threatens.
As much as its easy to poke at the pitfalls of capitalism, we will not find success trying to break the system with our paintbrushes, creating secluded utopias or naval gazing in academic circles. We need to work with the logic of our current economic system, using it as a channel and platform to connect citizens to meaningful change.
That means enabling and empowering the market outcasts — the craftspeople, artists and designers — with the tools needed to participate and compete within today’s economies — and maybe by doing so, even transform them.
“Totomoxtle” — crafting a system
During this experience I had the chance to understand more about Fernando’s work with textiles, notably his project with “Totomoxtle,” a textile he has designed using husks of heirloom corn species in collaboration with the Mixtec community.
Interestingly enough, Fernando highlighted that beyond designing the biomaterial, a major breakthrough was designing the system around it.
Through collaboration with the community, a system that considers the entire supply chain has been put in place — from training to breaking down raw fibers all the way to sending out fulfilled orders. The unique context also required getting plugged into society, setting everything up from a bank account for processing orders to getting higher voltage on the electrical grid.
There were also spin off innovations that occurred when crafting the system. For example, a seed exchange was set up where the community can access free corn seeds to feed their families in exchange for the husks used in the textile, a part of the plant that previously went to waste.
It has become a circular design system shaped around the biomaterial that is sold onto the wider marketplace — all the while looping back to reinvigorate the local economy previously struggling at the hands of industrialized farming while reintroducing heirloom corn varieties.
The system was created out of necessity and intuition, and yet when I heard the details I could not help but consider the similarities to business design.
Re-contextualizing business design
Hackers cannot do their viral work unless they intimately understand the system they wish to undermine and can speak its code fluently and, at the same time, have the hard skills to put it to very different uses (Ratti and Claudel, 2016).
Over the past several years, business design has started springing up in design studios and management consultancies across the globe. It is a role formed out of necessity, offering a strategic lens to traditional design processes, seeing and shaping the system holistically.
Business designers act as the missing link between design teams and the corporate client, there to empathize with and advocate for the client’s needs. They are responsible for ensuring that whatever is being designed will be viable for the business. And of course, they design the business models that wraps around products or services and propel them out into the market.
Business designers ask,
Is this product or service aligned with the business needs? Will it be competitive in the wider market context? What mechanisms must be in place for this thing to go out and serve the customer? What’s the larger context this business operates in and what are the associated risks and opportunities?
As Fernando Laposse’s Totoxtle project shows us, aspects of this toolbox are already being applied (even unknowingly) in alternative contexts with creatives. Taking on new form, it strikes the balance of KPI’s that consider community needs alongside business viability, uncovers new models for business innovation and more.
For some, the survival of the creative sphere will be dependent on “embracing the elasticity of contemporary culture by making tactical incursions into other disciplines ” (Alice Rawsthorn, Design as an Attitude, 2010). And for others — this tactical incursion is already in full force, with “designers being asked to be startup founders and sit on boards of companies” (Noteh Kraus, 2019).
Either way, we are seeing an emerging opportunity to harness business design tools and approaches built for corporates to enable smaller, more diverse and creative players gain a place at the table of the global marketplace. And not only this, but to make way for these players to infilitrate our systems and markets and reimagine the very fabric of business altogether, from the inside out.
Untapped channels of innovation, beauty and diversity are waiting to be unleashed. It is the mosaic — we are all thirsting for.
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