As our class moves closer to writing our articles for On Milwaukee, Royal invited Jason McDowell, the creative director of On Milwaukee and a MIAD alum, to come in and talk with us. I found some of his advice to be informative, as this week I started interviewing. Jason talked a lot about the freedom he has in his writing, but is juxtaposed with the fine line between high quality articles and not taking the sites writing too seriously, being a site for entertainment content. It almost seemed contradictory, however, Jason gave us enough credibility to show he understands his audience. He takes research seriously and has diverse interests that give his content unique perspectives. These are the qualities that give him (and the other writers though his editing) a voice and draws people to read On Milwaukee’s content. I had a hard time finding local artists and designers that did the kind of work that I wanted to write about, but keeping my own personal voice in mind, I decided to reach out to some independent designers on Instagram that do the kind of work I want to do, even though they are not based in Milwaukee. I thought they can at least give me a baseline to work off of.
I found interviewing to be a bit difficult at first because the designers I found, being professionals, had other commitments. I reached out to 3 different designers to start, and I have interviews committed for two of them. While they were happy to answer my questions I spent much of the week waiting for the right time to call them or to respond to my questions. I thought the least I could do is analyze the work they have up on social media to give an idea of what I want to write about. These designers are David A White, who has his own business called “Mechazone” in which he 3D prints his own robot action figure designs, and Matt Palmer, who wrote and published his own superhero comic book, “The Immortal Red Fox”, which he promotes with videos and live events performing in the hero Red Fox’s costume, much in the style of “Power Rangers”. Both of them have similar passions and interests as me, so I thought I could gain some insight into what I would need to do to make my own ideas successful if I ever wanted to launch a project independently after graduation. I plan on having a conversation with Matt Palmer over Instagram’s video chat feature, while David wanted to type out the answers to my questions on his own.
What I learned was a bit unexpected at first, but it made more sense after I began to collect my thoughts for this blog. Any independently produced work is really hard, at times it can feel as if you are constantly failing. I know this firsthand just from being a student at MIAD. However, for Matt and David, the main goal of their projects are not being “successful” as in being mainstream or popular, rather their main goal is seeing out their own vision. As simple as that may be, they have stories and dreams they want to share with the world, even if it's just a few of the world’s people. For both of them, they have a small but devoted following of people on social media that understand their vision and support them. They sell their work to them online or at conventions directly to large gatherings of potential supporters. I’ve always known about this kind of business model but for whatever reason I had not put these ideas together: being small is ok, you are probably doing your project on the side anyways. That’s why it's called a passion project. However, (hopefully I don’t contradict myself by saying this) I don’t think either of them are completely ruling out the idea of “being successful”, but to fully explain this will require some more context and examples.
As an industrial designer, I usually think about startups or independently produced ideas the same way I would treat any product, design it around solving a user’s problem. In our Professional Practice class, we were introduced to some MIAD alums that are manufacturing their ideas independently as well such as Dave Joseph who is working on OVIE a smart home food tracking device to prevent waste, and Jeremy Knowpow, who is working on MOTIVO a redesigned and empowering mobility walker for the elderly and disabled. These products clearly are made to solve a user’s problem. The passion and storytelling is much different than Matt and David. Essentially, as an industrial designer we are taught to find issues a user is having with an existing product or method, and justify the purpose of the new product’s existence based on the evidence that there is a user need for it. This is also called looking for “market gaps”. When I put it this way, it appears that the purpose of this kind of design is to be “successful” making money on the product, and not to get across your “vision”. Matt and David are products, while different media, are both essentially what I would call an “entertainment property”. They are being sold directly to a fan or collector market. One of my questions to the both of them is “Do you ever intend to solve a researched “design problem” for a user, or are you a bit more informal?” Which is essentially “are you designing products to fit a gap in a market?”. I hope that when I interview them, their answers are insightful to my own design process, and I can learn more about how the independent collectable market operates, is it all “passion” or is there more “user-centric” design going on.
Do you buy product solely because functionality or does its meaning to you or the person that made it more important? Maybe it’s both? Tell me in the comments!
Until next time…