When I was invited to create this post, a number of topics came to mind. But I decided to start our conversation with my response to the question: why do I write?
I am a Colombian woman designer who promotes venture projects in a region in which it is difficult to grow a business. In my daily work life, I ask entrepreneurs why they do what they do; why do they take the risk of possible failure? Usually, once we know the why, finding the how is much easier.
Design communicates message (i.e., the form, the method, is the message) and is therefore the problem of the designer, but the message, the why, is the great problem of the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs often have a hard time finding and believing in their own voice; I had the very same problem in art school. I was what you might call a very dedicated student.
In my cohort, I studied with 4 women and almost 40 men. In Colombia, the percentage of men who pursue higher education is much higher than that of women. Unfortunately, under these circumstances, as women, we see each other as competition, which is the reason why we rarely work together. As a result, when a professor asked us for something, I always expected someone else with more courage to answer. But something changed during my last year in the university. My thesis advisor, the man who was probably the most accomplished of the faculty, always challenged me to give my opinion during the academic discussions. It seemed he was always waiting for my input and ready to listen to me. Thanks to my research, hard work, and the accompaniment of my professor, I was persuaded that I actually have something important to contribute. After that, my research in entrepreneurship and design led me to speak in well-recognized academic spaces. Step by step, I was discovering my design voice.
Due to my faith as a Christian, I understand my work, including design work, to be a service opportunity. Nonetheless, the business world is hard, each person looking for their own best interest, and profit margins. Recently, I had been meditating on the letters of Paul to Timothy. Among these letters, I found, on the one hand, what could be the description of ‘a typical businessman’: people who love themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, treacherous, rash, conceited, among others (2 Timothy 3:1-5). And on the other hand, a message to that ‘businessman’: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant… to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). I adopted this message for me and my work. Advising entrepreneurs is my way to seek justice, equality, and help create healthy relationships between employer and employees. I have the opportunity to shape a business when it is still forming.
For example, last year, I met a woman who had an incredible coffee business. But when I started to work with her, I noticed that she was really scared. The coffee business in Colombia is controlled by traditional male-headed families. She felt very insecure about negotiating with men because she believed that she had to be more beautiful than intelligent to pull it off. “Nobody will take me seriously if I talk about coffee,” she said. For me, I believe entrepreneurship allows women to sit at the men’s table and negotiate at the same level as them. Once we achieve that place of power, however, we cannot just sit quietly at the table. Even though my job was to design a brand, my purpose working with her became about empowering her voice and her message.
In my startup, all voices are listened to. No one matters more than others. The entrepreneur, the expert, and the client have a voice at the design table. During the design sessions with the woman entrepreneur in the coffee business, we defined the purpose, the tone, the personality, and the principles of the brand. By the time we finished the design process, I submitted a colorful, funny, and contemporary brand and she had started recording a podcast about coffee. She discovered that she really had a lot to say, and people could and would believe in her!
All this to say that academic research led me to discover my voice, my faith led me to discover my ethical commitments, and the entrepreneurial road drove me to empower women’s voices. The half of the world that has nothing to say is usually the one making the most noise, but the other half that is in silence have deep and meaningful things to say; they think it is irrelevant, but it is not. I am convinced that each of us has something to say to the world, and when we discover it, finding the how is the problem of design.
Laura Casasbuenas: Industrial designer and youth Colombian Entrepreneur. Her startup Wabi, combines business thinking with design thinking to building innovative, commercially viable, and socially responsible ventures in the Latin American region. https://wabitaller.wordpress.com/conocenos/