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Entrepeneurial Thinking
Redefining roles and changing modes in creative business

by Terry Lee Stone

The renowned integrated advertising, design and interactive agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky (CP+B) has taken its deep involvement with its client’s businesses and leveraged their knowledge and creativity to develop products for clients. CP+B CEO Andrew Keller says, “It started for us when we brought all digital development in-house. Ideas for interactive apps, tools and games evolved into products for our clients and ourselves too. It is a creative outlet for our staff, and has helped to expand our client relationships as well.” One of their product concepts is Kraft Macaroni & Cheese for the Grill, a frozen version of the pasta sold in an aluminum tray that can easily be thrown on the grill while barbecuing for an easy side dish. It’s a dad-targeted guilty pleasure product that clearly demonstrates a role beyond expected advertising.

A more altruistic product is B-cycle, a bike-sharing program developed by CP+B along with Trek Bicycle Corporation and health insurance giant Humana Inc., that is currently installed in several major US cities. B-cycle offers people a healthy, green mode of transportation by placing cruiser-style bikes at convenient stations where they can be shared by members. Programs like this help both the community and the individual. Plus B-cycle places CP+B at the heart of the increasingly important sustainability movement. It’s also an example of the kind of product that has built-in storytelling potential, perfect for social media propagation so critical to modern advertising campaigns.

Barry Deck partnered with Larry Laske to design and market Larry-Barry high-quality pet accessories.

Another advertising design executive, former Ogilvy executive creative director, Barry Deck, now principal of his own firm Barry Deck Group, found that his work with major international brands brought him to some fundamental questions of the relevancy of the designer’s traditional role. He found that his thinking often lead to creative solutions about the nature of his client's businesses, not just their advertising and branding issues. “We’re living in a time of cataclysmic change. I found myself thinking about sustainability in a more holistic way. How can we use technology in ways to bring us all closer? How can I make small businesses bigger and big businesses better?” This led him to seek participation in start up technology-driven companies. “I’m working to build the brand story right into the DNA of the product right from the start,” explains Deck. He has developed several products—both digital and physical. One of these is a modern pet accessory line called Larry-Barry with noted product/interior designer Larry Laske. They have developed bullet-proof corrosion resistant collars, harnesses, leashes and other items that are meant to stand up to urban living and last.

Khoi Vinh, who was design director at the New York Times, left the corporate world as well as client consultancy to pursue design entrepreneurship and develop his own digital product. Vinh has recently launched a creativity app that makes art a social experience. “Somehow I got to this point in my career where I’m building my second company and spending more of my time, energy and passion on the mechanics of business than I ever have before. And it’s been incredibly fun,” says Vinh. He has a passion for his product and is excited about learning and growing in business. “I think the design industry has undergone a significant and meaningful change, one that opens up opportunities that are not to be missed.”

Mixel is the world’s first social collage app created by Khoi Vinh and Scott Ostler.

In the age of “like” and “share,” communication moves at a different pace. So does business. Designers participating at a deeper level with products—their own or their clients’—means that design’s much-desired “seat at the table” is more possible and more critical than ever. Get a creative in early to co-develop products and watch how “problem solving” and “design thinking” make all the difference. Of course, there is a world of business between product creation and product purchase by consumers. Designers require greater knowledge of that world. Working in a product development mode requires designers to expand their awareness as they redefine their roles. Creatives who continue in service consultancy relationships will find that there is still a need for specialized expertise and an outside perspective on clients’ businesses. As long as there are clients that value that, the traditional role is viable. However, as all manner of business become increasingly digital, designers must constantly keep evaluating their situation to make sure that there is still a market for their service. Exciting times, indeed. CA Lee Stone
Terry Lee Stone ( is a Los Angeles-based writer, manager and creative strategist. Stone teaches the business of design at Art Center College of Design. The author of several books on design, her recent two-book series is called, Managing The Design Process (Rockport Publishers). She wrote the Business column.