If there is one thing I’ve learned from the past 5 or so years of working with hundreds of social entrepreneurs and non-profit founders, it is this: Social enterprises have wonderful stories to tell. I’m talking truly inspiring, honest, stories. Stories that make you want to get out of the cubicle and make something.
But here is the problem: These stories, mine included, tend to be stuck on repeat. We always talk about how it all got started – the times in which we could only afford to eat ramen. We talk about struggle, epiphany, solutions, and success – in that order. Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of my story, and I am very fond of the stories of my colleagues, but our stories have not ended, they are ongoing. In honor of this observation, I have chosen to dedicate this post to telling you about the story of today, not yesterday.
In 2008 I founded verynice, a design and innovation consultancy that is dedicated to disrupting the way the design industry operates. We are a full service social enterprise that dedicates over 50% of its efforts toward pro-bono design. verynice has helped build over 250 brands in every sector and industry across the globe. We work with a diverse clientele that range from Fortune 500 companies to small local shops. Some of our clients have included The United Nations, MTV Networks, Human Rights Campaign, Facebook, Amnesty International, and Disney. As of 2012, a verynice design studio has also provided $350,000 worth of pro-bono design and consulting services in 6 continents to 150+ organizations thanks to our team of over 100 international volunteers, collaborators, and partners.
Since 2008, the primary goal of verynice has been to disrupt the economic models of design firms in order to encourage and catalyze change within the business of design. We have intentionally positioned verynice as a case study of sorts to better meet this goal of inspiring other design firms when planning and developing their own business models. We are very open to sharing our business strategies – it is part of our dream, as a company, to create more competition for ourselves. As living proof, we have spoken widely (and loudly) to advocate for more entrepreneurs in the service-oriented business industry to integrate pro-bono on an extreme level, and we continue to do that today. As mentioned, this is still the focus of our company, but something strange has happened over the past year or two that has created a new area that is ripe for disruption within the design industry. I guess you could say it is the beginning of a new story for verynice.
Marketing and design is shifting significantly, and the role of designers, right now, is drastically different than it was during the Mad Men days. We are entering a future in which every thing around us, from the sidewalks we walk on, to the cities we live in, to the hats on our head, can be mediums for communication and engagement. Because of this reality, discovering problems and solutions will become a very difficult task. We have identified that the role of a designer will soon not be to produce specific materials, but instead to define and discover the root of a problem that cannot be seen with a naked eye. So how do we do that? By defining innovation consultation as a primary service that design firms around the world offer.
Design-Thinking (a small subset of Design Research), right now, is comparable to web design in the early 90s – it is in the hands of a few individuals (IDEO, frog, etc.). Honestly speaking, obtaining these kinds of services is really out of reach for those outside of the Fortune 500 bracket. These kinds of consulting services run for no less than 5 figures, typically even more than that. If your marketing budget is already close to $0, why would you even think about leveraging a service that is, in the end, designed for an extremely privileged market? Design-thinking is best used in situations in which the client does not know the issue at hand – in an instance of wanting to push their company further through strategic innovation. The reason Design-Thinking methodologies (an innovation consultation at large) works so well is because it does not have a specific end goal. Instead, it requires an openness from the client in terms of where the discoveries along the way may lead – put simply: it is a privileged risk.
verynice is trying to change that. For years we have made traditional design and marketing services available pro-bono to non-profit organizations around the world. In late 2011, we made a conscious decision to reposition verynice to no longer be recognized as a “design studio,” but to instead be known as a design & innovation consultancy. Our new avenue of disruption, therefore, includes making innovation consultation, a type of offering that has previously been reserved for a very privileged bracket of clients, more accessible. When a non-profit applies to work with our pro-bono sector, they no longer solely select from a list of services. Instead, they inform us of the problems they are facing, and we work with them to determine the best way to approach developing a solution together. So far the results have been incredible. Our clients are going into spaces they have never imagined before.
That is the story of today – let’s see how it continues to unfold.