Visioning workshops for creative business: a review

May 27, 2011

In Spring 2011 I attended a visioning workshop delivered by Interiors and Lifestyle Futures, a project supported by Birmingham City University’s Design Knowledge Network.  Working with diverse community of West Midlands creative companies, a team of academics and consultants aim to deliver support services to help develop new business opportunities in high value niche markets from furniture, to furnishings, ceramics to jewellery. 

Delivered by a team from Interiors and Lifestyle futures together with Professor Richard Snell, the workshop brought a variety of designers and artists together to address business planning. A product designer, Victoria Delany, established glass artists Jo Newman and Jaqueline Cooley, Interior and furniture designer partners Rita Semedo and Thomas Slack of Cubed3studio and Sue Guthrie, public artist.

Honey Jar by Jo Newman Glass Artist

Honey Jar by Jo Newman Glass Artist, engraving Nancy Sutcliffe. Photo by Simon Bruntnell, Northlight Photography

Squirple 1 by Sue Guthrie

'Squirple' by Sue Guthrie

When you talk about planning for business development in the creative industries, it’s sometimes like reading French Vogue, the pictures look great and the products are to-die-for, but your schoolgirl French means you’re tempted to only read every third word of the article and skim over the real meaning.

Luckily, the ‘visioning’ element of the workshop meant looking at your business in terms of a narrative or story, and with an illustrated video-story, narrated by Prof Richard Snell of BCU, we took inspiration from the Design and Craft industry’s development to approach our own businesses strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. And what that meant was a visual and talkative way to approach to the entire event.

From my point of view, as a consultant to creative business, it was interesting to hear about the challenges and barriers faced by designers, makers, craftspeople and artists in a changing economic environment, and how people are coping with this.

The things I observed are:

1. You never stop learning.  Opportunities like the Visioning workshops are taken up not just by emerging designer and RCA Graduate Victoria Delany, a silversmith and product designer by training, but also artist-craftsperson Jo Newman, who after 22 years working in higher education whilst also producing her own work in art, is now working full-time in her own studio in the Ruskin Glass Centre, Stourbridge.

Victoria Delany tableware Product Designer Silversmith

Bespoke tableware and 'Candlestacks' by Victoria Delany

2. Everyone’s needs and expectations are different. Some designers wanted to focus on network development, others had identified their markets but wanted help planning how best to communicate with them and keep their business sustainable. A common thread, however, pulling the best participants together is that practicing creatives want to be taken seriously as professional practioners in their field.  Taking a creative business to the next level is equally about producing good work, but also about delivering good service to its clients.

3. Breaking down a business into stages is a good approach. Act 1 became the overview, Act 2 the strategy, Act 3 the implementation plans. I was impressed by this, and whilst it’s not new, using these terms seem to make the dry subject alot more juicy and easy to comprehend.   I’ve used this in my work, and implement proposals for consultancy based on this approach, with good results.

4. Planning usually involves taking a step back from your work and putting it on show.  Reluctant designers who don’t want to call themselves a designer, or artists that feel the word is somehow too grand for them to use to identify themselves as one; it’s not going be easy to gain recognition for your work if you can’t say “I’m a textile designer and this is my work”.

5. Creative work is often subjective but objectives always matter.  It’s encouraging to see dedication to life-long-learning, and an element of the workshop made you step back, look at your practice, and identify strategy; and help set out plans to tackle business planning and market development.

A Summer update from the designers and artists met during the course:

Jo Newman and Jaqueline Cooley are exhibiting at Wightwick Manor and Gardens, Making Art History Exhibition until 30th May

Victoria Delany will be launching a new range of products for dining at Origin Contemporary Craft Fair, London, in September 2011

Sue Guthrie is working on a new product line launch later this year and open to partnership collaborations.

If you’d like to get in touch with any of the artists featured, please comment on the blog with details and they will be forwarded on.

You can find out more about the Visioning Workshops from Interiors and Lifestyle Futures here


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