Giving designers business know-how

  • 2007-03-21
  • By Holly Morrison

BEHIND THE SCENES: Organizers of Nordic Design Workshops II insist that designers need marketing skills as much as artistic talent if they want to be successful. From left to right: Zane Licite, Ginta Tropa and Barbara Abele.

RIGA - Days prior to Nordic Design Workshops II being held, I entered the doors of The Latvian Academy of Art to meet with the three high energy organizers of this event: Zane Licite, Barbara Abele and Ginta Tropa. As we sat down to talk, the air was bristling with enthusiasm for the upcoming event. One of the first riddles to keep me awake nights was the one that went: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Sadly, no matter how much sleep I forfeited to analyze, scrutinize and explore this riddle, it was not, at least to me, solvable.

The organizers were faced with a similar riddle: If a genius designer is bursting with creativity but lives in seclusion, is there any potential for success? It appears that Licite, Abele and Tropa came up with an answer: The isolated designer's potential for success would be slim to none. Then, being the industrious and highly motivated women they are, they also came up with a potential solution: Nordic Design Workshops II 's Design Product Develop-ment, Branding and Self-marketing.
In 2005 a project known as Nordic Design Workshops and Seminar was first organized by The Nordic Council of Ministers' office in Latvia. The workshop was primarily aimed at creating objects and proposing concepts.
This year, Nordic Design Workshops II was held March 19 - 21. Collectively presented by The Nordic Council of Ministers' office in Latvia and The Latvian Academy of Art, this year's workshop was funded by The Nordic Council of Ministers and The State Cultural Capital foundation.

Tropa, who was involved in the organization of the 2005 project as well as this year's undertaking explains that, while the first workshop was highly successful, the organizers realized that the greatest challenges facing local designers were less about creativity and more about understanding the necessity and logistics of networking and promoting themselves and their companies.
"We were surprised at the productivity that we saw last year," Tropa says. "Inside of two days, workshop participants had produced actual prototypes for chairs and designs for clothing for postal workers. It was amazing to see how motivated the people were… maybe because they had such [strict] time limitations, I don't know. Maybe it was just the excitement. Things moved so quickly! But without understanding the need to develop their products and market themselves. This was the problem."

Abele and Tropa went on to explain that designers cannot work in isolation. In Western Europe design is taught with an emphasis on teamwork and the importance of promotion 's abilities that are frequently not second nature to creative people, and are perhaps even more challenging within an emerging capitalist market. However, at this time there is no curriculum that teaches teamwork or promotion here in Latvia.
"In Nordic countries designers have identities that are known," Licite says. "They have learned how to promote themselves effectively. Here in the Baltic countries we have great talent and creativity but we find promotion difficult. This year's workshops will include speakers from Sweden, Norway and Finland. They have the experience in promotion of products, self and companies, and we have great talent and creativity. It's a win-win situation.

"One of the main differences between the last workshops and this years is the international attendance this year," Licite continues. "We have people from all around the Baltic Sea, including Estonia, Lithuania, Sweden, Finland and Norway. We are all neighbors. It makes perfect sense to have a workshop where designers who are neighbors can meet, communicate and actually work on some short-term projects together. It can be a [platform] for long-term projects, for cooperation between countries."
When I first entered the room, I had thanked the women for giving me an hour or so of their time. I was aware of how hectic life can get days before such an event. Abele had looked surprised and said, "We're just really glad that you find this interesting! People are generally interested in the final product… fashion shows, new furniture designs. Education and behind the scenes efforts are… you know… not exciting."

Before leaving I intended to take issue with Abele over her belief that the organizing of this workshop was not exciting. But while collecting my notes, bag and cell phone the three women had immersed themselves in preparations for Nordic Design Workshop II, leaving me grateful that they had given me so much of their precious time.
I walked from the Academy, my response ringing in my head: "Not exciting? Are you joking? This is supremely exciting! Three women organizing an international workshop intended to fill the gap left by conventional education; establishing an environment where creative neighbors can form friendships and pave the way for future partnerships and doing all of this while teaching artistic, right brain designers how to engage their (somewhat recessive) promotional genes. Does life actually get more exciting than this?"

For a moment I thought this conversation would, like the isolated tree in the forest, potentially remain forever silent. But then I remembered: Hey I've got an article to write!

For more info check out:

This year is the 45th anniversary of the Design department in The Latvian Academy of Art,

Speakers at this year's workshops:
Michael Hardt (Norway) 's Self-marketing
Sverker Bergstrom (Sweden) 's Design Product Development
Peter McGory (Finland) 's Branding