Several years ago I designed a product called Table & Tennis, and I’ve been selling it on a really small scale for a few years. I’ve never really done much marketing for the idea, or tried to scale it up (yet) because there are a lot of parts to the process, mainly international shipping and logistics that just didn’t feel resolved for me.
Even without the marketing, I have gotten a decent amount of interest. Some of my favorite blogs have covered it, including Notcot, swissmiss, Gizmodo, Core 77, Wired, and many others, and I recently did a little interview with Inc. Magazine about it. I never created an e-commerce store for it, just simply had my email on a tumblr blog, and over the past few years about 1000 people have contacted me to inquire about the table. In the world of the internet those aren’t big numbers, but to me it seems pretty significant, especially since it’s a pretty expensive item. Of course the number of people that actually ended up getting the table is much smaller, maybe about two percent. This really isn’t the point I’m trying to get to, but it must have some significance since it popped in my head, but moving on…
The reason I’m writing this revolves around a couple of hurdles I’ve encountered with this product. A nice product is one thing, but everyones’ experience with the product, and their experience obtaining the product is the most important part to me. Many people think the table is beautiful, or cool, and that is one of the goals, but the bigger piece to me is the philosophy behind it. It never felt right to me how divided and hierarchical business and offices often felt. I think it’s a shame and unhealthy if you can’t have some genuine fun with the people you work with. I also know how important play and physical movement is for health, creativity, and culture, and yet, it was often ignored or pushed to the closet until the one time a year it was okay to play. Again, I’ve gone off the rails because this also isn’t the main reason I’m writing this.
Okay, back on track, I hope… The most recent Table & Tennis order has turned into a poor experience, at least in my opinion. After the table was finished being built, the shipment got delayed a bit because of some of the factors associated with international shipping, and I’m sure partly due to my inexperience and not having the knowledge to anticipate certain things that may come up. Every order has a different set of laws, forms, costs, etc. because there are different rules for each country. When the table was finally delivered to the customer’s office, they started to assemble the table, but didn’t finish because they said the table was defective, when in fact they didn’t bring a wrench, so they couldn’t put it together properly. Important note: I’m not blaming here, something I always loved about design, but only a few years ago realized applies to every aspect of life, is that this is on me to decide what to do. For example, I could create a friendly instruction kit specifically for the delivery crew. Address them by name, give them my email, supply the wrench, etc.
So in the case of this delivery they left the table unassembled in the company president’s office. They left packing supplies and a mess from the office all the way through the company to the elevator. Of course there are 100 other things that happened after this, but I won’t bore you with all that. The result so far is a bad experience, which is what matters most to me. This bothers me to no end, and effects me all day, and for several days until everything is taken care of.
I’m finally getting to my point :) The people that ordered the table appreciate my concern and efforts to make the situation better, they even told me not to worry about it, that it’s not my fault at all. I told them I really appreciate that, but I absolutely feel accountable and responsible. Maybe I didn’t technically screw up the assembly, or leave a mess in their office, but I created and sold them the product, so ultimately it should be my responsibility.
When people around me see how affected I get when something like this happens, they often say things like, ‘You did what you can, so let it go.’ Or ‘I’m sure you have already gone above and beyond for them, don’t let it bother you.’ Or my least favorite of all, ‘You just need thicker skin with this stuff.’ Isn’t that like telling someone to ‘Get greener eyes.’ Or ‘Just jump higher if you want to dunk.’ There are trade-ups and trade-offs to everything. Sure, I hate feeling down, or embarrassed, or frustrated, or letting my mood effect my time with my wife, but if I didn’t react like this I probably wouldn’t be the type of designer I am, because I believe design = empathy. I wouldn’t be able to come up with ideas that connect with people because I wouldn’t care about how they feel. I wouldn’t have sent the current customer a chocolate and fruit basket today, I wouldn’t be looking at flights to Canada right now to see if it’s feasible for me to go meet the table assembly crew this weekend, and on and on.
Now, I definitely agree there has to be a healthy balance. I need to do everything I can to improve the situation and decide how I want to deal with it in the future, but I can’t allow this to become an issue that is bigger than life itself.
It’s pretty interesting because I always felt like the best designers were pretty sensitive people, and that was why they were great designers. Because they observe and pay attention to how people feel, and genuinely care and are affected by what they see. The irony was that they (and myself included) were always being told by our bosses to essentially ‘get thicker skin.’ The reality is people can have thick skin in some areas of their lives and thin skin in other areas, and it’s probably important not to change that. I know I personally don’t want thick-skinned designers working on health related products, or cars for me!
Anyway, I wanted to share this because it always helps me to write my thoughts down, but also I’m sure there are lots of people that can relate to this, with different details of course, but similar thoughts and emotions.
There are a bunch of other topics and conversations that are inside this post, but not expanded upon, but if any of this is interesting to you, here are a couple of books you might enjoy checking out:
Quiet by Susan Cain
Choose the Life You Want by Tal Ben-Shahar
Questions & Insights with Drew Coburn, head of strategy at Cubism branding & marketing.
This is part of a series of interviews about the power of taking small steps, and the impact our environment & surroundings have on us. The same principles that led to the idea for the 1X1 brand.
I was lucky to meet and work with Drew at my first job at Landor Associates. I was always drawn to Drew’s deep thinking and skills on the basketball court, but most of all, his incredible sincerity in asking questions, listening, wanting to learn, and genuine interest in people and how they felt over anything else.
We both moved on to different jobs for several years and re-connected a few years ago. It was amazing, it was as if we both had become ‘more us’ and our conversations were even more intriguing. I also look up to Drew for following a passion for counseling and coaching in addition to his other endeavors.
What’s one small thing you and/or your business has done repeatedly & has led to something substantial?
‘How can we help you’ - its almost ritual in our conversations with others. We try not to ask it as a manipulation - to get something, to get somewhere, to gain access to someone as a kind of trade in kind……we simply try to remain generous in listening to and offering ideas to others. It puts me in a freer, looser, more creative space and state of mind - all things just seem to flow better – our generation of ideas for others and ourselves is almost always more plentiful when we focus on them rather than us.
Describe the environment you love spending time at. What’s happening there, who’s there (if anyone), & what does it look like?
I love a more free form environment with less structure but full of people with an intention to help each other…to feed off each other. I guess there would be fewer doors closed and enclosed spaces…more open air, unstructured space……..a few of the areas would have circular tables for congregating and working through challenges of different sorts together. It would have lots of big paper tablets with fat markers – yes including a few that smell really good but eventually give you a headache. It would have fewer computers……they tend to separate people in workspaces and on teams - at least that’s how I see them……There would be a coffee shop nearby, to go to with some of my colleagues, either to sit down and carry on or just to take a break and appreciate one another in a non-work way.
I like having new people come into the mix; yes it would be mandatory for folks to invite 1-2 new people to the space each week, so we could find out about them and then throw them – no – invite them into our flow……great question……
What’s an example that illustrates the following quote (ideally from a personal experience, or one you have observed/learned about that has had an impact on you):
“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” Mattie Stepanek
I’ve watched my kids in a global creative problem solving competition for the past decade or so. One thing I’ve gathered for myself in watching over the years is that Unity has both superficial and profound natures. To me, the unity we most often experience as human beings is the kind of rush to agreement, maintaining good feeling, don’t rock the boat, don’t really put anything on the line kind of unity…..it gets pretty boring, pretty quickly, people not only don’t show up mentally and emotionally, they start to go missing physically….the group breaks down or sort of dribbles away. Superficial unity has a kind of ‘managed’ feel.
The other kind of unity happens when people have the courage, curiousity, I’m not sure what else – to put something on the line….sharing intimately about themselves, exchanging their real ideas and feelings with one another – daring to have open disagreement and even conflict with one another rather than to wallpaper over argument or preempt before it raises its head – to suppress it in the interest of not rocking the boat.
Every year, My kids’ problem solving teams go through this long gestation period that starts out as superficial unity — and then the real stuff starts to happen – amazing kind of ‘brothers and sisters in arms’ kind of stuff……they can fight like cats and dogs one day and defend each other to the death on the next. It is an amazing and predictable process to watch.
Interestingly , I see far fewer examples of profound unity among adults than children……it’s as if we’ve become so practiced at the superficial that its….well like a trench we dig daily and ever deeper…making it a bigger an bigger challenge for us to actually see that were in a trench (hey this is normal life…as good as it gets) , we see were in a trench but across time we get so deep into the trench that its hard to scale the height of its walls – kind of like when mike mulligan and mary ann dug themselves into the cellar with no way out……or were in the trench and we sense that we’re alone down there, with no one to reach out to….no one to ask for help……….
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“No single step changes everything, but every single step changes something.”
I’m amazed and excited how quickly and seamlessly we have gone from these sketches:
To this reclaimed wood:
To an almost finished piece of furniture!
CustomMade has been an awesome platform.
Jamison Sellers Design has been a great maker.
And SketchUp is an amazing, and intuitive program you can use for free.
Of course you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but you always have a second chance to change the first impression.
Great companies are vibrant, they can hardly contain themselves. It’s because they’re made by believers who want to find other believers and convert the rest. — An email from Scott Kraft. (via zachklein) - YES. (via fyietc)
With HICKIES we make putting on shoes just a one step process. Never tie your shoes again!
We will write a bit in the near future about why we like HICKIES so much and why we think it aligns well with some of the 1X1 principles.
Worn out jeans w/ holes + non-fitting @brooklynindustries shirt = New, one-off jeans. #reup #pluspieces #bemoreyou #wornwith @hickies #beforeandshortlyafter
Great post from @chrisbrogan http://www.humanbusinessworks.com/who-do-you-know
“There’s pretty much nothing I’ve done right before doing it wrong first.”
Sharon Montrose, Photographer
speaking at CreativeMornings/LosAngeles(*watch the talk)
Every dollar spent at a locally owned business generates two-to-four times the economic development impacts as a dollar spent on an equivalent non-local business. —
Forbes piece on the amazing power of spending locally. (via poptech)
It’s not only healthy for you to eat fresh and local food, it’s healthy for your neighborhood’s economy.
And speaking of a healthy community, I’m speaking tonight at an event in Williamsburg that’s raising awareness about asbestos removal at the Domino Sugar Factory. It looks like there are some very shady removal tactics happening at the site putting the community at risk of breathing more asbestos fibers than we should be. The local issues in your immediate neighborhood where you work and play are by far the most important issues to get involved in.
My dream is to have people working on useless projects. These have the germ of new concepts. — Charles Eames (via jacob)
(Source: howtowork, via themadeshop)
The Two Most Important Words - Harvard Business Review -
Gratitude is a practice. Make it a priority.
- Thank you.
Such a great talk from John Jay @imprintlab in Long Beach yesterday. One of my favorite quotes was when he was talking about his top floor office with views and he said: “I was trying to slide down the corporate ladder as fast as possible.”
Excited, honored, and humbled to be a visiting instructor for my friend’s new school. @vanishingfootprints
“It’s really amazing the difference you can make in someone’s day just by talking to them.”
Stewart Scott-Curran, Art Director, Graphic Designer, and Illustrator
speaking at CreativeMornings/Atlanta(*watch the talk)