My master thesis was about personal branding in design field. I wanted to know how some designers managed to create such strong brands and some equally good ones such as my professors failed. What did they differently? Was it just a pure luck? Well no.
In order to better understand branding and marketing, I spent couple of months reading different authors about branding and personal branding. I learned about Keller’s and Aaker’s model, Montoya’s personal branding and many other authors and after a while, you start to realize that all those models role around few simple brand dimensions. They all overlap. Finally I created a table with all brand dimensions those authors identified and with that table I went and interviewed design stars and product managers of companies that hire those stars. I interviewed names such as Ilkka Suppanen, Neil Poulton, Nathalie Lahdenmaki and companies such as Arabia, Iittala and Vitra. Surprisingly, all designers followed exactly the same process, although some of them did it unintentionally.
First, they all worked for a specific company that made them famous. Those companies in furniture design field, are Vitra, Artek, Kartell, Magis, Cappellini… If a designer collaborates with them, he/ she automatically becomes a star and other companies follow. So, how to get those companies? That is the hard part. Everyone wants to have their designs produced by one of them and everyone sends project proposals to them. Which makes it even more difficult to differentiate. Some of them receive over thousand product proposals a month. Of course they don’t look at them all when in their own words, “90% of them are s..t” So how to attract their attention if not by sending emails and how to make sure that what you make actually impresses them?! Well, of you want to attract attention of key people inside the target company, you need to first do some self analysis. You need to make sure that you and the company are the perfect match, meaning that the products you have in portfolio or the ones you show them match their needs. If so, then you need to actually find information about the company and see what they are doing at the moment and what are their plans. It takes around one year from a sketch to actual production, so you need to know in advance if they are planning a certain product. There is no point sending them a lamp design if they are planning to make a new chair. Then, when you know what they are planning and you are a perfect match, you need to find the decision makers in the company and plan how to make them see your work. You already know that sending emails won’t do the job, so what would? As a designer, you are a creative person, but what many designers do is limit their creativity to only design tasks. Your creativity doesn’t stop when it comes to business and marketing strategies. You can be equally creative in planning how to attract someone’s attention as you were when you designed a truly innovative chair. There is somehow belief that by doing something different then making an exhibition would damage your chances to work for them. Let me assure you that by talking to them I know that your chance s to work for companies like Artek, Vitra or Capellini are very slim to none to begin with. So, what do you have to lose? Why not creating a table and planting it in Capellini owner;s favorite restaurant or planting your brochure in their newspapers delivery. The options are limitless.
A few years back I applied for an internship in the at that time best design studio in Russia. I wanted to work there, but the email address on the webpage for internships was internships@...... I knew that I will be one of hundred designers applying for that spot. I have to find a way to differentiate. It was “go big or go home” moment. In the subject line, I wrote: “CONGRATULATIONS! You won the best intern!” It was a risky move, but I knew that majority of people will put Internship application as a subject and in the long list of applications, mine will stand out. They will at least look at my portfolio. They did. I was invited to an interview the same day! All these learnings from the interviews with product managers and designers, combined with insights from branding literature, I combined into a Canvas that asks designers the right questions.
The canvas is divided into five fields. The first field is self analysis, where you analyse the type of products you designed, your style, materials and write a design statement. Second field is similar, but it is targeted at the company you are planning to apply to. Third field is dedicated to analysis on how well you match with the target company and what you need to do to be a better match. You could maybe do additional work or create some specialized designs for them or completely rethink your design language. Design is business and you need to start thinking like one. The next two fields are dedicated to the company people and ways to attract their attention. Fifth field is for ideas on how to get decision makers from the company to see you work. It is a place to be as creative as possible. The last field is for thinking of ways how you can get valuable data about the company and how you can meet some employees from there. It is more likely to hire you if they know you already, and also you will know on time when they plan expansion of their product line.
This canvas is created for one specific target company. You can use this tool over and over again and redefine yourself or iterate on it the more you learn about the customer. If you do this precisely and spend enough time working on it, I can guarantee you that you will work for some of those places and get to the heights you aspire to. You just need to decide to do it.