Savoring my design moments

Nowadays I identify more with “small business owner” than “industrial designer”. I’ve pretty much come to terms with that, although I still think “industrial designer” sounds cooler. Honestly though, I consider building Po Campo to be the ultimate design project, and that keeps me pretty satisfied.

Regardless, there are times when I get to return back to the simplicity of just thinking about design (in the traditional sense), and these are fun, blissful moments. One such occasion is working on our print patterns. I love coming up with the inspiration and building it into the larger Po Campo story.

This spring, we introduced our first proprietary bicycle print, which we are calling Bike Ride. We had originally intended to launch it for Fall 2013 and wanted to do something kind of wintery. In building our Pinterest inspiration board, Russia-esque images of furry hats and snowy palaces kept emerging, which got us thinking about Russian constructivism. The more we looked into it, the more inspiring it became.


You can read more about how Russian constructivism influenced Bike Ride’s creation, from its role in industrial design history to its prominent female designers (a rarity then and now, sadly) in my recent post on Po Campo’s blog.

We are starting the journey again by working on a new print for Spring 2015. This, along with some new product designs, gives me a few days to be on a design vacation, which I cherish, before going back to the land of spreadsheets and sales presentations.

Everything is half-assed, and it’s okay

Being a scrappy, bootstrapped small business means that I can’t hire the pros to do the job right very often. I really struggle with this because I want everything that Po Campo does to be amazing.

In the past I would usually just say “f#@k it”, and hire the pros anyway, despite not being able to afford it. It’s just so hard to resist, because with the top-notch talent you know you will get a quality outcome with less oversight and in less time, and when your plate is too full and you want everything to be awesome, this seems like an obvious choice. And if everything you do is awesome, your business will grow that much faster, which means there will be more money, quicker. Right? Sadly, not in my experience.

Instead, I’ve learned that if you can’t afford it, that means that you will not have money down the road for other important things, like buying more inventory or paying your employees (or yourself). Clearly, this is not sustainable, which is why one of my goals this year is to ween myself off of this practice.

This decision means that I have to settle for the less than perfect version of some things, and just say “no” to many others. I have to decide what is “good enough”, which is a departure from thinking “only the best”. I don’t know if it is the designer in me or some kind of perfectionist inclination, but this is incredibly difficult.

I’ve opted for the cheaper versions of some things (lighter-weight paper in our catalogs for example) and postponed other projects that I know I want done right but can’t afford right now (like redoing our website). I made image templates so my team can generate their own brand visuals without having to pass things by me all the time. Are they awesome? No, but they get the job done and keep everything moving forward.

However, this resolution has already shown greater rewards than just saving money. It has given me a big confidence boost. See, I have learned pretty much everything about running a business while on the job and admit to always having doubted if we were doing everything “the right way”. Because of this insecurity, I was treating most of our business activities (everything from how to record orders to how to make forecasts) as stop-gap measures in place until we can afford to bring in a pro to kick things into high gear.

Now that I’ve said that we are not hiring anyone we can’t afford, for both contractors and employees, that puts the onus on me to confirm that we are doing things the right way, or, at least, doing things that are pointing us in the right direction. We’ve double-downed on writing processes for everything that we do to help us streamline it and identify ways to improve it ourselves. We agree on specific measurable goals and work together to figure out ways to meet them. I’ve come to appreciate that it isn’t so much about getting to a point where you can hire the best people, but it’s about building something brick-by-brick with good people. 

Saying that we are doing everything “half-assed” isn’t quite right, because that implies that we don’t care. Instead, we’re trying our best, with a full heart, and believing that we’ll get there eventually.