Ghalia’s Reflective Essay: Note to Future Self

“Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.” – Angela Duckworth

The first seven years of owning a business and a product line were merely the discovery phase for me. A lot of trial and error, failures, tears, sleepless nights and a whole lot of prototypes. I have created a beautifuly designed contemporary islamic product range in 2011. And the brand still has a minute place in the global market. Now that I have learned how to make the products, how to sell and how to place my products on the global platform. The time has come for me to develop the brand, the designs, my business skills, and my thinking skills.

I joined MACE (MA Managing in the Creative Economy) to learn more about design thinking IDEO amongst other courses that are beneficial to the development of my career.

We were asked to chose the people we want to work with and create groups for our startups. At that point, I haven’t gotten to know the people in the class well enough, and afterall it was just a university project, I took a passive stance and waited to be asked on a group.

The group named Odyssey chose me to join as the creative partner and so I did. It was four of us. Working together on the development of our Taska bag. Alnoman, who is from Oman and who came up with the idea of incorporating a charger in a bag. Tadu, from South Africa who had some experience in e-commerce. Edwin, who had the humour and the character to make us all laugh mid sentence everytime we attempt to rehearse our presentation.

Although it was a drama-free group. We weren’t compatable as individuals to work together. Neither in terms of experience nor goals. I am still connected with this fun group, but I’ve had a lightbulb flash in my head when I noticed the different directions we both had for the business. So I’ve taken a mental note to my future self, and that is to be more proactive in the initial phase of chosing who I should work with and not wait to be selected by people.

I remember reading this quote in the Personal MBA that says, “In addition to Understanding Core Human Drives, it’s important to understand that humans are social creatures.” it says, “human beings care intensely about what other people think of them, and they spend a significant amount of energy tracking their relative status compared to other members of their group”.

The design Process with Odyssey:

We first started with framing the problem, which most fashion forward individuals who are contstantly on the go face, and that is having their smart phone run out of battery while they are in between meetings or out looking for directions or trying to hale an uber in the middle of the night.

The solution we came up with at the time, exploring all technological innovation, was to create a multi-purpose, gender-neutral bag and install a contactless charger inside. And we named it Taska, which means pocket in Italian. This bag was supposed to be an object of desire for the sleek and stylish people who use their phone heavily and don’t want the hassle of carrying around a cable charger.

And so I worked on the design of a clutch that can turn into a fanny pack and a wallet with a detachable compartment for coins, keys or lipstick depending on who is using it. Whilst the rest of the group were doing research on the technological aspect of the charging device.

I remember being in Paris for work the weekend before our presentation and having to spend the last five hours in Paris at my friends apartment working on the designs before heading back on the last train to London and presenting the morning after.

As we started taking the MVP to the manufacturers to produce the leather product, I had signed another work contract and had to suspend my studies until further notice as it was very difficult to do both at the same time.

Returning Solo:

I came back in 2020, carrying on a similar concept and this time implementing it with a new aproach. I decided to work on a piece that can be part of GHALIA EDREES contemporary islamic product line.

When we explored Taska, we realised that the wireless charger that we were going to install in the bag, still had a cable which needed to be plugged in whilst charging. So as I started working on the new product, I chose to work with a wireless power bank, which you can charge at home but once you are on the go, you would not need to carry a cable with it.

Moreover the product we were working with seemed more intriguing in 2018 as it was the boom of the gender nutral fanny packs. Whereas my brand is all about timeless symbolic design and less about trends.

So I opted for a small card holder that would have a built in wireless power bank for your phone. So that the customer can sustain a sleek image and charges his/her phone by merely placing their phone andwallet on top of each other during meetings or even on the go. An act that is essentially natural for most people who dont carry briefcases or handbags.

The laser cut metal plate is inspired by geometric forms found in traditional islamic architecture which I have simplified into an abstract pattern. Anr the leather will be in a nutral tone that is cohesive with my Tshirt line and my furniture line. I aim to collect the leather waste from big design houses and recycling them into this product for the purpose of sustainability. I aim to collect the leather waste from big design houses and recycling them into this product for the purpose of sustainability.

Towards the end of the course and after pitching my business to Dragon’s Den, and selling my products in the street market, I learned more about the ways I would like to take my brand forward. I also learned about my strength and weaknesses and what exactly it is that I need in order to develop my brand further.

Hire a Chief Operating Officer for ALGHALIA INTERIORS:

In conversations with my course director as well as some of the jurers, I came to the conclusion that although I am a design entrepreneur who has succeeded in keeping a business operating for 9 years. I will, without a doubt, need someone to handle the financial aspect of the company in order to take it to its next phase of meeting its optimum potential in generating profit.

I often overestimate my capabilities, thinking that I am enough because I am a deciplined, ambitious person who is also knowlegable in the business aspect of design. However, the truth will always be that I am design biast. Which means at times, I might compromise the profitability of the company in order to prioritise the design.

Take Active Measures:

Decisiveness, assertiveness and people skills are all things I need to work on. When It comes to design or business strategy, I know exactly what it is that I need to do and I am quite assertive with design execution as well as contract signing. But when it comes to reading people and assessing compatability or pushing my business forward to people or selling myself to business partners, that is indeed something I need to work on.

Sustainability is Not Just An Excuse for Ugly Design:

A few years ago I was standing with a few architects at Tent London‘s party during design week and one of them said that sustainability is just an excuse for ugly design. At the time, I was ignorent about this topic and I had never seen a sustainable brand that was aesthetically pleasing to me.

I read the following quote in an article on Fastcompany Magazine that said: ” Designers care about image, and the green movement, like it or not, has a reputation for being all substance and no style.” and that “The ugly truth about sustainable design is that much of it is ugly.” This article was written in 2013, just about the same year I had that conversation at Tent. Nowadays, There are plenty of beautiful brands that are sustainable and worthy of recognition.

Today I write this article/essay after being on Lockdown due to COVID19 for over 60 days. Enduring this catastrophic global pandemic in isolation from all friends and family and going through various conflicted emotions between self-reflection, self-assessment, career goals and reaching out to people and making an impact to feelings of defeat, depletion and utter failure.

Through this time however, I have continued the research on incorporating sustainability in my practice and have even presented a live talk on Instagram about sustainability in interior design. I have ordered sustainably made eco-friendly fabric samples ready for the new prototypes as soon as the lockdown is over.

My future plan is to create an ecommerce platform for curated sustainable products and sell my collection on the platform, directly to consumers.

Remembering The “WHY” and Focusing on The “HOW”

My business has always been driven by the passionate desire to promote progressive thinking and the evolution of design with a particular focus on contemporary islamic design. Whilst I should always remember why I started the brand and why I do what I do, in order for customers to understand why they should invest in my business or products, I should now focus on the “HOW”. Since I have moved my business to London, things have been lost in translation. I no longer had the same office structure and I am no longer playing in a familiar field. Through the masters program I started developing the “HOW” and made some amendments that would push the business to thrive.

“How we do things manifestsin the systems and processes within an organisation and the culture. ” says Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why

Katie White, Managing director of ID-magazine said in a panel discussion ” So much of the brand’s success is about cultural relevance.”

REFLECTING ON THE DESIGN THINKING PROCESS:

  1. EMPATHISE.
    • What I used to do: This step was non-existant in my design thinking process. In the past, I always started my design process with inspiration and general market need.
    • What I will be doing: Have more conversations with my existing customers and my potential customers and ask them questions about what they need and what problems they face. Hence empathising with their situation

2. DEFINE THE PROBLEM

  • What I used to do: I’ve never taken the time to frame the problems that people face when designing a product because I have never invested the time to ask people what they needed and what problems they face. I often decided on the product I am launching based on the design direction and what is lacking in the market.
  • What I will be doing: after researching and having conversations and asking quastions. I will frame the problem & formulate a statement in order to design a product that solves a problem.

3. IDEATE

  • What I used to do: Coming up with design ideas for my new product was always about reflecting on my previous collections, reflecting on the new products in the market, drawing inspiration from islamic design and working on the evolution of those inspirational forms. It was never about finding solutions to a problem, because I have never really framed the problem in a visible manner. I keep clients feedback in the back of my head when designing but that was not enough.
  • What I will be doing: generate many ideas and show them to people and get feedback.

4. PROTOTYPE

  • What I used to do: As soon as the design is complete with full 3D renderings and dimensions. I would contact a manufacturer and build a prototype using the actual materials. This process has been very benefitial to achieving the end design. However, It has been immensely costly and has had a negative impact on the company’s finances.
  • What I will be doing: Creating a mimimum viable product (MVP) prior to building the actual product with the actual materials. Ie, using chiep materials and creating a sample to be tested.

4. TESTING

  • What I used to do: Right after the prototype was created, it is taken straight to the photoshoot to be photographed for the advertisement and marketing campaign, without even testing it on users.
  • What I will be doing: After testing the MVP on actual users, I will be hearing the feedback without being defensive about the design. I will go back to ideating and creating the final prototype based on the feedback.

References:

Duckworth, A (2016), GRIT Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success. pp 103-104. United Kingsom: Vermilion

Sinek, S (2009), Start With Why, How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. pp 66-67 United States of America: Portfolio Penguin.

Hosey, L (2013), A Case for Why Green Design Must be Beautiful. Fast Company. Article

https://www.fastcompany.com/1672322/for-green-design-to-have-a-chance-it-should-be-beautiful

Kaufman J (2010), the personal MBA. A world-class business education in a single volume. pp 43-44. London: Portfolio Penguin.

Inside the industry: How to Build a brand in Fashion. The business of Fashion (2017)

Sprouts (2017), The Design Thinking Process, Youtube Video

Published by ghaliaedrees

I am a Saudi British Design Entrepreneur, living in London, United Kingdom. I promote progressive thinking through design. Ghalia Edrees is also a contemporary islamic lifestyle brand founded in 2011. My dream is to grow my interior design company namely, ALGHALIA INTERIORS LTD. This blog will take you through my design process, my creation process, my thinking process and my exploration process.

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