Welcome back to the NYDesigns newsletter. Our grants season is in full swing, we took on too much, and our newsletter suffered for it. But we missed you.
Crain's NY had a great article the other week on how some creative business owners have turned to street vending to build brand recognition and boost sales.
This strategy is a near relative to the "pop-up/guerilla" temporary store concept that's been around since I was a teenager (exaggeration) and of which I'm the first to admit a sense of jaded exhaustion. Less sales opportunity and more marketing opportunity, "pop-ups" take advantage of the consumer values nurtured by an entertainment- and experience-centric economy. By promoting consumers to participate in temporary installations, insiders armed with the keys to unlock the exclusive, the secretive and the cool, pop-ups are a great way to cultivate a brand following. In addition, transient retail can become a cost-effective platform for testing and refining new products and ideas in the jungle of real audiences; and if things go amiss, well, it's not like you just signed a 5-year lease on a Madison Avenue storefront! Even better, you could site your guerilla store on previously unattainable Madison Avenue, next to your retail idols!
Everything costs, of course, and what Commes des Garçons can do, you probably can't. Street vending seems like a good solution for a more limited budget, but the NYDesigns investigative team found that it's harder than it looks.
If there's foot traffic, there's usually a street vendor. In recent years, we've become more familiar with the food vending industry thanks to the admirable efforts of the Vendy Awards, the Urban Justice Center's Street Vendor project, and the success of eclectic weekend markets like the Brooklyn Flea, which features food, crafts, art, and everything in between.
Street vending can be great alternative to a brick-and-mortar store, but it's by no means a temporary enterprise, given the investment required to launch it. For products that are not food-related, licenses are expensive, in both the open and black markets. They're also limited in quantity and application preference is given to veterans. Life on the streets can get rough; vendors have traditionally had an ambivalent relationship with city enforcement agents, as they do with the weather: "Worse than the bitter cold and long hours… is the stream of tickets handed out by police for setting his table too near a doorway, selling too far from the curb or vending on the wrong corner."
You don't need a license for the sale of certain goods or if you become a merchant under the umbrella of an authorized street fair organization, such as the Brooklyn Flea. But if it's a storefront you want, with semi-permanent branding elements and a suitable, contextual home for your goods, how about mobile merchandising - your inventory and retail venue rolled into a bus or a van? This Brazilian company thrived under this distribution model and this fashion bus has been doing well in London for nearly a decade. Unfortunately, it's illegal in New York. A phone call to the Department of Consumer Affairs confirmed that non-food retail from a stationary or moving vehicle is strictly verboten. According to the DCA representative, some ex-cops have been trying to change the law for years, to no avail. If having a mobile storefront is your dream deferred it's time to petition the city government. Start by emailing DCA for an interpretation of this law at email@example.com.
Granted, if your design practice is communications oriented, this is a hotspot you've scratched before; if you're an architect, you may find this model analagous to industry-specific practices you take for granted; if you're a designer just out of school, you may see this as stepping stone to rewarding work and employment; and so on and so forth down the line. Despite strong positions for and against crowdsourcing, it's always tempering to remember that different lines can be drawn over what constitutes unacceptable practice.
CrowdSpring and 99designs is a forum for "specwork," defined by advocacy group NO!SPEC as any kind of creative work rendered and submitted, either partial or completed, by a designer to a prospective client/employer before taking steps to secure both their work and an equitable fee. These two crowdsourced design sites ask their customers to post creative briefs that morph into bona fide competitions, drawing dozens or even hundreds of design responses by closing date . The winner receives a nominal fee (as little as $200), and the client receives a logo or website - at fire sale prices. All the rest can, well, go home and be good sports about the whole thing.
NO!SPEC calls foul on these sites and similar offline schemes. "The designer in essence works free of charge and with an often falsely advertised, overinflated promise for future employment; or is given other insufficient forms of compensation." There's a thin line between creative challenge and exploitation when younger designers are cajoled into believing that their efforts, regardless of the result, can always be meaningful for their portfolios (the "you're-doing-it-for-yourself" argument"). The AIGA also sounds a caution over aspects of intellectual property, trademark and trade-dress infringements in undertaking specwork.
What happens to value in the age of free work? is what I want to know. Isn't this what the guilds of pre-enlightenment Europe were for (sees also: trade unions, cartels, socialism)? If crowdsourcing design represents the worst of what internet communities can do for the new reality of work, then let this end on an uplifting note: Brandstack shakes off some of evil vibes. Brandstack asks designers to submit unused logo designs “so they can make money off good designs that are going to waste anyway… Designers usually work to produce higher volume than they actually get paid for, so they have plenty of these designs just taking up space on their hard drives.”
How's the New Year's resolution thing going? I used to think they were a hopeless exercise because, really, what can possibly tip your reserves of will between December 31 and January 1st? But then a few years back I made the resolution to floss everyday and I literally haven't missed a day in two years.
Anyway...here at NYDesigns HQ, we've resolved to become a more productive team. That means better organization, synchronization and communication - making sure things get done efficiently and well. It's a broad and abstracted undertaking but we're approaching it from many perspectives, one of which is taking advantage of the exploding market in productivity applications. Here's a rundown of what we'll be trying out this year:
1. InDinero: InDinero was created to help business owners improve their abilities to manage their company’s financial health. The founders have described it as Quickbooks for the 21st century. What this means in our experience is an extremely intuitive and well-designed user platform that allows you to scan big picture conditions without being mired in individual lists of transactions. Best of all, it's free up to the first 50 transactions and less than $30/month up to 500 transactions. Free = great incentive to try it out to see if it works for you. Our accountant is impressed - but was frustrated by the difficulties in synching with our bank. Turns out it was the bank's fault for being so crushingly low-tech.
2. Prezi: Don't let the appalling logo deter you. The tech/venture blogs have been buzzing about this for a while and we just couldn't help trying it out. Prezi is a web-based presentation tool using a map layout and zooming to show contextual relationships, resulting in a more playful and dynamic exposition of ideas. Unlike Powerpoint or Keynote, it eschews the linear slide presentation model for a more flexible, free-form sequence of information. We all know how painful it is to sit through a Powerpoint presentation that's just slide after endless slide of text. This tool may help ease the pain: their innovative features are new narrative techniques that greatly enhance the presentation format. However, I can see how people lacking a visual sensibility can screw up just as badly in Prezi as they already do in Powerpoint.
3. Remember the Milk: We like lists, yes? There is nothing more satisfying than seeing items being struck off a list, whether they're for chores, work tasks, or unlike-ables on Facebook. With RTM, you can make lists galore, categorize them according to your social roles (work, home etc.), set personal reminders by email or SMS, postpone them, and just generally get your life in shape. When shopping around for comparable tools I was leaning towards Teux Deux [http://teuxdeux.com/] for its clean design and appealing strike-through motion for completed tasks but ultimately, I prefer the rich functionalities of RTM.
4. Gift a Follower: This app might be better for you readers out there who manufacture and sell products than it is for us. You can reward socially networked friends and followers by giving money to these guys, who'll then fix your audience up with a "grab bag" of goodies, which may include donations in your name, gadgets, gift cards, and potentially weird and wonderful online finds. It's also an effective marketing outlet, as you can also offer you wares to them as grab bag items. We like how they've streamlined the human gesture of gifting into social commerce.
5. Google Notebook: Google is not a mysterious entity, but we needed something that would make taking collective notes easier. Yes, one can do that in Google Docs...but if you're using Google Apps already, you might as well try everything they've got. This is an ideal brainstorming tool and a repository for early-stage ideas, which you can organize and hierarchize after the fact. You can browse, clip, and organize information from across the web in a single online location that's accessible from any computer (and you can share it all). One last thing tipping us towards Google's version over other notebook-like apps is our oceanic hope to be awarded Google Chrome laptops for the entire office.
I must be severely behind the times because I only heard of Cyber Monday a week ago when a friend referred to it jokingly in a Hanukkah party invitation.
November-December is an especially popular time to offer your goods and services at a discount simply because everyone else is doing it. Running promotions at times when there's a lot of demand is an obvious option, but inevitably, you're stuck with a lot of competition. Two solutions present themselves: you can either plan ahead for the holiday season and make sure your customers know there is a real incentive to choosing you, or save your aggressive promotional efforts to other points in the year where you can truly stand out - if you can find some relevance to your product line and market, might I suggest the perennially favored Flag Day?
But seriously - seasonal offers have a number of benefits. They're opportunities to attract attention and bring in new business. Providing you've done proper analysis and forecasting, they can bring in additional revenue to increase annual margins. Your regular customers have a reason to look you up if they know you constantly review your offers, and it gives you a reason to get in touch with them...with good reason.
Of course, the idea that promotions even have to coincide with seasons sounds a bit outdated when you consider that the internet's guerrilla ethos has encouraged adorably irreverent efforts such as these. However, a dependable promotions calendar can be a trusted friend to both you and your customers in this age of rampant wit and irreverence.
- Focus on what is interesting to your target audience
- Draw up a schedule in advance so you can ensure variety throughout the year
- Stand out from the competition - key if you refuse to bow to the pressures of November-December
- Do your sums first to ensure profit projections are realistic
Welcome back to the NYDesigns newsletter. We've been busy and away, but we'll be returning to your inbox bimonthly.
We were moved to investigate the origins of the humble yo-yo after a five-minute investment in this amazing video of the reigning yo-yo world champion/ illustrious titleholder.
It's difficult to define "design" but one of the aspects that hits the nail on the head is the pursuit of innovation. "Innovation" has become cloyingly overused. Banks use it to describe new services and approaches, consulting firms structure themselves around it and the term's ubiquitous deployment as an advertising buzzword triggers images of an endless parade of increasingly complex cell phones. Innovation's essence, however, is an engagement in renewal: asking new questions and going for it in order to generate ever-more useful applications.
"Yo-yo" is a modern designation, trademarked in 1929 by the Duncan Company after it acquired the manufacturing rights from the Filipino entrepreneur Pedro Flores. He brought the idea for the toy from his native Philippines; "yo-yo" is Tagalog for "come-come." "Yo-yo" entered the lexicon as a generic term in the 1960s.
It is widely claimed - though not entirely verified - that the yo-yo in a different, larger guise was used as a weapon. Allegedly, Filipino tribesmen used to flick yo-yos from canopy hideouts to stun invading marauders. Sir Ian Fleming found this factoid inspirational and added a yo-yo killer to thwart James Bond in the film Octopussy.
After the doll, yo-yos are claimed to be the world's second oldest toy. That's right folks - the accompanying image is not photoshopped. It's taken from a Greek vase dated to 440 BC. Since ancient history, the yo-yo has gone in and out of style until the contemporary period, cresting at one point in the 18th century in France and acquiring the name bandalore.
In primitive yo-yos (hypothetically, the ancient Mediterranean variants), the string is tied to the axle using a knot. With this technique, the yo-yo just goes back-and-forth; it returns easily, but is harder to pause.
In the Filipino design a continuous piece of string is twisted around itself to produce a loop at one end, which is fitted around the axle. This seemingly minor modification increases stability and suspension of movement during free spin, allowing the user greater control over maneuverability...and setting the stage for competitive showmanship centuries down the line.
1970-1990 yielded the innovations that would enable the gentleman in the video and others like him to really strut their stuff. These included:
- The Yomega Brain, a yo-yo with "centrifugal clutch transaxle technology." It has a free-spinning plastic sleeve linkage, spinning much longer than previous fixed-axle designs. In addition, the axle is weighed down with spring loads, facilitating the return of the yo-yo if speeds drop past a certain threshold.
- Ball bearings, which significantly reduce friction when the yo-yo is spinning (sleeping), enabling longer and more complex tricks.
- The SB-2 yo-yo with both transaxle and ball bearings, ensuring extremely long spin times and effortless returns. Incidentally, this model received the inaugural prize for excellence awarded by the yo-yo industry.
- New materials, such as aluminum, the lightness of which helped with friction issues (string rubbing against axle); particularly effective when paired with grooved axle.
So there you have it. There's always a story behind every jaw-dropping Youtube video, more often than not guided by some obscure innovation.
Design + Sustainability + Profitability
We've all known for a while now that it pays to be green. But beyond the deployment of green values in publicity and marketing, what are the hard and real costs, choices and trade-offs design companies face when they integrate sustainability thinking into their core business strategy? Our guest speakers, all active and influential within their respective creative disciplines, have innovated their products and processes so that today's profits don't compromise the needs - and profits - of tomorrow.
Can't make it? Follow us on twitter or submit your questions #designersaccord
It was just a regular postprandial afternoon at NYDesigns. And then we saw it, in Popular Woodworking Magazine.
"Win a Free Router."
Our LXWXH fabrication lab, headed by "Tool Guy" Ben Wilkinson-Raemer, is a well-equipped outfit but the acquisition of a router would really put it over the top.
A CNC router moves sideways to drill out material, leaving intact the forms and shapes that are specified. It digs using a drill bit called a mill. A CNC can cut out a particular shape over and over again until either the material runs out or the electricity turns off. It's hooked up to a computer and is guided by software in much the same way as our beloved Lasercutter, a NYDesigns newsletter favorite (Lasercutter = picture of kittens in a teacup).
The particular CNC we covet, the Weeke Vantech 480 CNC router, has a retail value of $69,900. It's the cutting edge of shop technology - its drive system is both powerful and impressively reliable. Stiles Machinery will be awarding a free one-year lease of the machine and footing the cost of shipping, installation and training. That's a lot of expensive equipment and extras we can't pass up.
Winning this CNC machine will change the way we do business in the fabrication lab. Whereas now our members get all their routing done outside of the lab, we can feasibly bring that work in-house and integrate it fully into our practice if we have our own machine. We want to train people to use the CNC comfortably despite its 6ft x 8ft industrial behemoth presence. Needless to say, access to the machine will increase demand for our services, boosting our mission of becoming the most imaginative, most affordable and most reliable shop around.
Please make our dreams come true!
1. Go to this video on youtube
2. Sign into youtube (very important!)
3. Press "like."
But wait, there's more: Here's what's in it for you:
Ben Wilkinson-Raemer: "If by the grace of God we win this CNC machine, I promise that, to the best of my ability, I will seek out Christopher Walken and have him taser me...and I will film it."
As of now, 109 of you like us and our video has been viewed 1485 times.
This summer, the Center for an Urban Future released a collaborative report with architects, urbanists and artists reimagining the look and feel of the New York street fair. I was almost robbed at knifepoint at a street fair on the Upper West Side back in 1999 so I personally stay away. But no past trauma is needed to accept CUF's findings; you know what the report's about if you've ever accidentally (or intentionally, to your everlasting regret) stumbled upon the sad collection of greasy food, tube sock vendors and nonchalant condoning of litter that is the New York street fair. Even Mayor Bloomberg agrees. CUF found that almost half of the food permits were held by the 20 largest vendors in the tri-state area and that almost half of them are based outside city limits. A sense of place and a connection to the immediate neighborhood is notably absent, and it isn't as though the cons are balanced out with cool activities like classes on recycling and repurposing old bike parts into necklaces.
But if such things were on offer, then we would have an entirely new model for a street fair. Thank you GreenHomeNYC for bringing us the NEW New York street fair on Saturday, October 2, 2010 - where you, your kith and kin CAN make jewelry out of old bike parts. And a lot more besides.
The NEW New York reinvents the tradition of the street fair to bring home ideas for greening our built environment for the residents of the city. "A core component of the event is to use the streetscape and surroundings as a classroom. In addition to leaving behind a block transformed with examples of a greener city, activities will be tied into the immediate environs - this year at the Carroll Gardens block of 3rd between Bond and Hoyt - such as tours of a nearby green building."
In addition to community engagement and integration, NEW New York is committed to reducing the traditional street fair's dirty footprint by composting food waste, minimizing the use of paper, utilizing biofuel and offsetting its carbon footprint.
See their schedule of events. And do visit on Saturday - it'll be fun, it'll be new and it's the street fair we New Yorkers deserve.
Curious about going green? Take our GreenhomeNYC's - NYDesigns classes this fall.
At the commencement of the first graduating class of entrepreneurs from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program, held yesterday September 22nd, we had a surprise.
NYDesigns has been hosting the program for the past 6 months so we knew to expect some marquee names: Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein as well as everyone's favorite investor, Warren Buffett.
That was more than enough for us. And then we were floored. Because so unexpected was the attendance of President Obama's senior adviser and public liaison Valerie Jarrett.
In her commencement speech, Jarrett underscored the Obama administration’s commitment to helping small businesses. Her timing was right on. Today, a delayed bill to help struggling small businesses secure access to credit and other growth incentives goes before the House to be signed into legislation.
The issue of dwindling credit for small business owners has gained a lot of momentum in the past year, as can be attested by all sorts of articles and media pronouncements. Just this week, Crain's New York ran a special report on the "broken" small business finance system. Both the total volume and total value of small business lending in New York State contracted by half between 2006 and 2009.
The drought in small business lending, according to a survey undertaken by Pepperdine University, is the No. 1 issue for private companies nationwide. NYDesigns' own survey and report on Latino participation in the NYC design economy also ranked access to capital as a top issue for design business owners and entrepreneurs.
The validity of this issue comes under question in an emerging perspective advocated most heavily by the National Federation of Independent Business. In their report Small Business Credit in a Deep Recession, NFIB analysts caution against misidentifying fundamental small business problems and translating these faults into faulty policies. Only 8% of the NFIB survey respondents cited access to credit as a business concern while a bit more than half attributed slow or declining sales as their main problem. Even among business owners who reported they cannot get credit, twice as many cite poor sales as cite credit access. What businesses need are customers, not credit.
"So why does lending obsess us so feverishly?" the Atlantic Magazine asks. Credit, the author finds, is available although - it is true - harder to get. The article follows the fortunes of a manufacturer who was able to secure loans to invest in capital equipment and is now enjoying, in a battlefield desolate of competitors, profits, new hirings, and the likelihood of coming out of the recession even stronger than before. Borrowed money can help someone like him, who applied it constructively to grow and strengthen his business. The other direction borrowed money can go is towards shoring up a business already on its way out - to stay afloat. And while access to credit may be a benevolent thing to extend, it may not be the prudent strategy to dig the American economy out of our epic recession.
NYDesigns, in collaboration with Hostos Community College and with generous funding from the Small Business Administration (SBA), surveyed and interviewed 70 Latino designers to gauge the state of design entrepreneurship within New York City’s rapidly expanding Latino community. The study assessed key challenges and proposed strategies that would benefit Latino designers most in propelling their business forward.
New York City’s Latino designers identify themselves as graphic designers, web designers, fashion designers, industrial/product designers, interior designers, and architects. Their extensive professional experience, acculturation to the language and customs of American life, and commitment to their professional futures mark them as valuable contributors to the New York City’s economic and cultural health.
NYDesigns has just launched a brand-new website devoted to the study, the resulting report, and the creation of a Latino designers network committed to advocacy, support, and mentorship. Explore the site, read the report, register for our Latino designers database, and keep your eyes peeled for future developments!