Who: Chris Do
What:Founder and CEO of Blind, Emmy winning Director, Designer, and Strategist
Why: Create value and change the dialogue of design
How: Education and Design Thinking
"Own Who You Are and Take Risks"
I found Chris Do's Youtube channel by chance. The bright background and the font of the Youtube letters caught my eye. I was immediately fascinated by the topics that Chris covers on his channel: business, management, and value creation through design. The layout and the content go beyond the demo videos and surface-level conversations of design that you often find online. Chris and his Youtube channel provide substance to their viewers. I was compelled to ask myself not only how I could improve my work but also why I would take these actions. For Chris and for many young professionals, it is important to ask why you're doing what you're doing.
I decided to reach out to Chris to learn more about his motivations, his perspective, and his experiences that have lead him to create such a great resource for free. Our conversation lasted more than our allotted time, and I pondered the profound statements that he made days after the fact. I enjoyed our conversation and found the following points extremely beneficial to design, and to life.
Chris Do is hungry. There is no doubt about this statement. He advocates interdisciplinary knowledge of design, business, education, entrepreneurship, and humanity. We started the conversation with a little about background. Chris told me that he was lead to graphic design in college after enjoying his time in high school creating work from a commercial art and welding course. He was uncertain if a creative path would render the financial and job security that can be found in traditional respectable job paths. He knew he was on the right path when he landed an apprenticeship opportunity at Silkscreen Printing Shop. The workshop was a wonderland of tools, new design technology, and possibilities. He went on to start Blind, Inc., a design firm located in Santa Monica that has been running for over 20 years. There, success is plentiful and their projects are incredible, in my opinion. He also sits on numerous boards and teaches at the college level.
Quick side note is that I told Chris about my background and my interest in design. He lead the conversation and provided anecdotes that catered to my experience. If this happens to you, when someone listens to you and leads the conversation to assist you, you're in the company of someone special.
We kicked off the conversation with design school education, a topic that Chris is very passionate about. Design schools do a great job teaching technique and process but in a world of entrepreneurship and evolution, can schools do more? Chris advocates for business knowledge and management to be taught in formal environments, in depth. Being able to understand and take a more holistic approach to owning and running a business will not only open opportunities, but also possibilities to different career paths. We'll discuss this more a little later. His belief is that every designer should see themselves as their own business.
As a designer, they need to have confidence to act as a business owner and carry themselves in a different light to have important conversations when opportunity strikes. The designer mindset of a business and acting as a business will render new insights and understanding into clients' perspectives and pain-points. When a designer approaches clients with the mindset of being a business, a more effective and actionable conversation can be had.
The ability to relate to customers will help everyone involved. A great analogy that Chris used was this: Say you're at a wedding reception, and you're trying to figure out where you belong. Of course the bride, groom, groomsmen and bridesmaids know where they stand, so do the immediate family members, but what about everyone else? There's a hierarchy that exists and the lowest perceived point is the kids' table. The kids' table is where you don't want to be, with the least amount of respect. A designer shouldn't be at the kids' table, and shouldn't be okay with being grouped there.
Designers should know where they stand and take control of their situation. Too often designers are the last party to be included in the project and have little impact in the project. When this happens the details are already set and the important discussions have been had. An outside perspective and creative exploration would not be welcomed in such an environment. One of the benefits of being a consultant or agency is having new and refreshing perspectives but this is lost when designers aren't included in the important conversation. Being the last to the party can limit the designer's ability to create outstanding work.
The solution is to educate and empower designers to be confident and knowledgeable in business to contribute early on in these discussions. Chris also pointed out that design and business education can be creatively explored through various online learning resources, apprenticeships, internships, and similar non-traditional paths.
He also wants designers and design students, equipped with business knowledge to realize that they can also explore other professional opportunities. Chris referred to the story of the two RISD graduates who went on to find one of the biggest companies today, AirBnB. Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia: Both graduates studied graphic design went on to start AirBnB. These two went past the traditional paths and started a business that has completely disrupted the hospitality industry. The possibilities are endless and designers can contribute so much to all industries. In fact, John Maeda has highlighted the importance of designers in successful startups and the value they bring to the teams they're a part of, in his design review of 2016.
This is because designers take problems, research them, and find creative solutions with the user in mind. Chris is working to help schools adopt the points of business education, confidence, and value, creating opportunity in their curriculum to better support young designers towards creating their futures.
He advocates value over and over.
With these tools, students create user generated and design thinking mindsets to deliver products to customers that go beyond face value. For Chris: "It isn't about making things pretty. It isn't about that, it is about creating value, long-term value for the client." It is all about asking the right questions and having a part in the conversation.
If a client says they want a logo done, it is important to ask the right questions and not jump to a design. Ask questions and ask the right questions. Yes or no questions won't result in a cohesive response. Chris references Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos who says, "Ask the customer what they want, then ask them why, and after they respond ask why again. After the next answer, ask why one more time and you'll discover what the customer really wants. A bonus, the customer will find out what they clearly want too with this method."
Using the design thinking approach will allow for greatness to be achieved. Adapt with the clients and adapt with the times. Using design thinking and integrating new technology to create value will result in working relationships that reap rewards. Cater your design towards user experience and take risks. Chris has the experience of seeing somewhat successful designers be in demand then slowly fade when they don't evolve. Chris simply stated, "Constantly adapt and don't be a caricature of your former self." Things may not go as you expected with clients or with projects as a designer. Make sure you have many irons in the fire, and don't get hung up.
Chris made this profound statement, "Bigger ships take longer to sail."
With that said, in each relationship, ensure you're bringing tact and professionalism as a human being. You never know where your next gig could come and you never know someone's story. Deliver on promises and be a good person. The design world is always changing. There used to be certain barriers to enter into business but with technology and globalization these walls have crumbled. With all this in mind, it is important to develop a community. A community will allow you stay afloat in the competitive environment. Make sure the business and your everyday encounters influence people to want to join your tribe. Every aspect of your life and business will prosper.