Designers make pretty pictures, how can they design a business?

It’s my belief that ‘design thinking’ is a key element in creating a new business. A good designer can create beautiful marketing collateral and intuitive websites, but they can also think of the whole user/customer journey, and therefore design a business around a user-centric approach. They can break down the system and visualise design solutions for all key touchpoints. It was this belief that made me feel we could DESIGN a business in a day.

The business idea

The Imperial Press concept started this summer when I was searching for some interesting prints to add a little visual interest in my own home. I’d seen a Victorian copy of The Graphic within a cafe while on holiday, and thought it was not only a beautiful example of an engraving, but also a snapshot into life over one hundred years ago. I searched around to find an example for myself and happened to stumble upon a collection of original Victorian newspapers. The book was full of amazing images, but the accompanying stories were the thing that brought them to life! Finding one describing a ‘fungus society trip to Herefordshire’ – my home town – gave me the opportunity to own a piece of history that was personal to me, and something I could really associate with.

Ingredients before the big day

We can all get hooked up on the smaller things, so I decided to get these out of the way before the day. I liken it to preparing for a fancy dinner – you need to make sure all the ingredients are there before you start cooking. Our ingredients included:

  • Name of business – this can take far too long and requires researching Companies House and web domain providers. Before the day we had bought the domain name and ensured it was available as a Limited company.
  • Competitor research – keep it brief.
  • Mission statement – the price, product, promotion, place (one liners)
  • Copyright issues – the business was selling reproduction prints, so we needed a little legal investigation
  • Four trial products – prototype prints and their info
  • Plan for the day – a clear instruction for the day, who was doing what, and what outcomes were required
  • Buying a reception bell – Forget the post-its; the purpose of the day was focused on doing and outcomes. We needed to rapid prototype ideas, concepts and creative solutions so all decisions were made in 30 seconds and ended with a ‘DING!’ on the reception bell!

Time to get cooking! A business in a day

Assigning the different areas of the business to the most suited people; our dream team consisted of the following:

  • Becky ‘THE PRODUCT’ Wood. Outputs: four trial products printed and framed. Paper stock and framing supplier to be confirmed.
  • Pete ‘THE SHOP’ Meadows. Outputs: website and ecommerce designed and live, with ability to purchase products.
  • Craig ‘THE PACKAGE’ Melvin. Outputs: solutions for packaging different product variations. Costs and designs of packaging (e.g. repeat patterns and stickers).
  • Matt ‘THE LOGISTICS’ Standage (because we could sing “Matt’s Logistics” like the well known logistics company!). Outputs: User journey through website and purchase, to packaging and final delivery. Costs and recommendations on delivery.
  • Dave ‘THE BRAND’ Stroud. Outputs: finalised logo, typefaces, colours, webpage design and storycard layout (each print comes with it’s news story as a separate booklet).
  • Francesca ‘THE MARKET’ Tomlinson. Outputs: Target areas for marketing (who, what, when, where), social networks, wordbank, tone of voice and copy for website.
  • Vicki ‘THE MONEY’ Tomlinson. Outputs: collection of costs from the team, including production, packaging, logistics and marketing. Forecasting and price setting.
  • Oliver ‘THE HEAD CHEF’ Tomlinson. Outputs: timekeeping, idea tasting, motivation, team feeding, decision making, bell ringing (see ‘Ingredients for the day’).

By the end of the day

The day went extremely quickly, but by the end of it we were all really pleased with the outputs. We had the bones of a complete business, with products ready for photoshooting, and four of them on our working website (mobile and desktop compatible) with the ability to continue populating the rest of the website in-house. We could send the weblink out to people for review and user testing.

A complete brand was created, with accompanying tone of voice to be used in a targeted marketing campaign.

Supply chains for product packaging and logistics were found and included in a draft user journey for the customer.

Draft financial predictions were there, but more info was required to finalise.

Ok, so there was some washing up to do

There were a few things left at the end of the day, with one particular area causing a knock on effect across the business. We were not 100% sure on the product framing, and because this was a fundamental product decision it meant that packaging, logistics and financials couldn’t be finalised on the day.

We held back on promoting via social networks (twitter and facebook) as we didn’t want to send people to a developing site – but posts were drafted before the official launch roughly two months after the day.

Populating the site with product after the event also produced a number of tweaks to the website design, but all were small rather than wholesale re-designs. Essentially, the site today is 95% the same as it was at the end of our Business in a day. You can see the site by going to

Lessons learned

I had underestimated the time to populate and snag the site – it would have been easier if I didn’t have a day job! I’d also greatly underestimated the time involved in getting people to the site. I’d thought once it was live people would come, but it’s actually requiring quite a push.

The key lesson was how well a great team of designers can work together in a short space of time. By keeping focus and pushing quick decisions, we were able to output a complete working business in a very short space of time. Even if the business isn’t a success, I’m really happy with using the day as a team building exercise and potential methodology for other business ideas.

Special thanks

Other than the amazing effort the TDL team put in, we also enlisted in the help of two key people – the maker and the marketer:

  • Pete Meadows: WordPress master in spare time (full time Sales Director at Obsidian IR). Twitter: @digital_meadows
  • Fran: Studied Fashion Communication and Promotion, currently Event Coordinator at COW events. Online portfolio HERE