The Design Clinic: how to communicate your mission and vision

20 Nov 2017

When Kennedy Woods were tasked with designing Aerende’s Space for Ideas store: a homewares brand showcasing products made by people facing social challenges, they realised there were many more challenges for ethically-minded business when it came to setting up shop. So during Aerende’s two week pop-up, the Kennedy Woods team decided to host a series of design clinics to help other people with social impact businesses, work out the best way to bring them to life. Here, they share four key lessons from the clinics to help young ethically-minded businesses get more out of their design:

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The Kennedy Woods + Aerende design session

Know your mission and vision

The first task for any brand looking to launch a store is to outline their long and short-term goals. All too often we are told about the task at hand, without any bigger explanation of what a business is trying to achieve. A good way to do this is to try and articulate your vision and mission.

Vision is the change you want to see in the world. A strong vision should be bold – scary even. Despite feeling almost unattainable, it makes you – and your team – want to work towards it. Most importantly, it helps you maintain perspective when making short-term decisions, and keeps you pointing (and growing) in the right direction.

People often confuse this with your mission, which is more short-term and grounded. For instance, Aerende’s mission could be written as “To create a market for beautiful, ethical homewares made by people facing social challenges, who might otherwise be overlooked”. Whereas Emily’s vision as the founder is much broader: It’s to challenge our society’s laissez-faire attitude to consumerism. Emily is working towards a world which understands the true cost, and true value of production. In this world, ethical and sustainable practices would be the norm, and the kinds of suppliers she is working with wouldn’t be marginalised.

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Aerende's Space for Ideas winning shop

Once we understood her long term goals we realised the Space for Ideas shop was much more than a shop to shift product in the run up to Christmas. To place Aerende at the heart of the debate about ethical consumerism we decided to open up the shop as a platform for talks, workshops and events around this theme. It didn’t cost any more to design or implement, but it was one of the highlights of the pop-up for Emily, and will have a lasting legacy for her brand. It was only possible by first understanding her business vision.

Focus on the important, not the obvious

A recurrent theme of the clinic was what we’ve since dubbed “the design iceberg”. Almost everyone we met wanted help with styling their brand, but after a short discussion it became apparent that much more pressing and important issues lay below the surface.

Just as an iceberg is only 10% above the water, a graphic identity represents some much deeper thinking. It might feel like you’re making headway by redesigning your logo first, but it's dangerous to do this if your real challenges to business success lie elsewhere.

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In order to get the best value from design, focus on the areas it will make the biggest difference. To know where to start, try to write out each hurdle you’re currently facing on different post-its, and then arrange them in order of urgency and importance. Relentless focus on a single task at any one time might sound unintuitive in our noisy digital age, but it’s the Gyshido philosophy that we follow and it works!

Get your story straight

A common challenge for social enterprises can be succinctly articulating their story. Most want to take an ethical approach to every aspect of their business, from the materials they use to the people involved, which is a great philosophy, but to avoid confusing customers, you need a clear sense of hierarchy in your communication.

A good example from the clinic was Taino, a food start-up with three core aspects to its business model: It’s product (healthy, homemade pickles based on traditional West Indian recipes.) it’s raw materials (food waste from local markets) and its financial model (profits directed to women’s charities in the Caribbean.)

Each of these differentiators makes for a great product, but what is the weighting of each? And what is the story that ties them together? Is Taino at its core about the nostalgia of grandma’s recipes – and being resourceful in using leftovers like she used to be? Or is social impact the headline: punchy Caribbean sauces not afraid to shout-out about injustice, using food-waste simply as a means to keep costs down and direct more money to their cause?

In order to design Taino’s visual identity, we need to have clear answers to these sorts of questions. There’s no right decision. The only wrong one is to be inconsistent.

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Juta's handmade shoes

Understand where your customers place value

The design thinking approach we take is founded on empathy. That means always striving to see things from a consumer's point of view. The value of this approach became apparent in our conversations with Juta Shoes, a social enterprise making hand-crafted, sustainable espadrilles and supporting communities of underemployed women from East London. They currently have an online shop and asked for help to design a market stall.

Using role play we attempted to understand how a customer would approach and engage with the stall. We broke the buying process down into small steps, and in doing so uncovered lots of interesting issues. For example, with limited stock on the stall they rarely had a customer’s preferred shoe-design in the right size. Very soon, we realised the most unique aspect of their product wasn’t being communicated at all…

It transpired that Juta Shoes are hand-made to order and delivered within 24 hours, based on a design and materials you chose, a discovery that changed the design brief entirely. Rather than designing a display for the product, the challenge was how to display the process. We suggested making shoes live at the stall to animate it; providing a step-by-step explanation chart and an engaging swatch book; as well as a range of beautifully designed gift and receipt cards mounted with off-cuts for customers to take back after their purchase as a temporary memento.

This opportunity, which is now feeding back into the design of their web shop, would have been entirely missed if we hadn’t approached the challenge from a customer’s perspective.

As all these examples illustrate, design thinking can unlock potential in all areas of business, from identifying and overcoming barriers to growth, to discovering innovative ways for brands to increase their impact. Don't be afraid to open up a brief when working with designers to let them suggest where they can add the most value.

Following the success of the clinic, Kennedy Woods are now running it as a regular event. To apply for a free consultation about your project please get in touch via hello@kennedywoods.co.uk. Watch Emily's Space for Ideas store come to life here

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