There are those moments in life when you know “something” is happening and that you need to pay attention to.
At the time, I was eighteen, and I felt this was one of those moments.
To understand this event in context, I need to go back in time a couple of years.
I’m sixteen, and my parents are concerned: I’m a B or B- student, often sitting at the back of the classroom, distracted and distracting my mates too. It’s not that I can’t do better, but I don’t see the point; frankly, I’m bored. Why are we doing all this? What’s the point?
But, with those grades, my chances to enter an engineering school were slim. So, my parents had me take a psychometric test.
I’m now sitting in front of the psychotherapist, and her comments are straight to the point: “Stop everything, you’ll never get your baccalaureate, let alone enter any universities, at best,
you could do something with your hand and become a cabinet maker.”
My profile was unusual. My colleagues had spikes in math and physics, and so did I, but they were lower. Then, I had other peaks in areas where I “wasn’t supposed to”: grammar, logic, art, and so on. So, the therapist couldn’t understand the idea and the profile, hence the answer.
Back to that aha moment.
I’m visiting an industrial design studio, and the CEO is spending two hours of his time explaining what they do, the process, the creative work, and so on.
I’m amazed. I’m excited.
I sense something is going on: not so much that I’d like to be a designer, but that my mind is already framed and wired for that.
I ask the CEO at the end of the tour as we are sitting in his office: “could you give me a couple of projects so that I can test if I can create and help?”.
He opens his drawer, looked at all the ideas he had no time to follow through, gave me two and asked me to come back two weeks later.
The first thing I did when I when back to my place was to dig this psychometric test I took and compare that with what I have seen in the design studio. In my mind, it’s a perfect match: to be a good designer, one needs this horizontal view and be able to talk different languages: technical, social, art, financial, marketing etc.
I knew then what I would do next. Two weeks later, I presented my sketches to the CEO. In his words: “your drawing skills suck, but you have good ideas, you should stop mechanical engineering right away and move into industrial design”.
I didn’t quite apply that I finished my degree in engineering and then moved to Canada to study industrial design.
I knew what my purpose was, and I was dedicated to it.
Back to France, I opened my first design studio and started working with several companies, many you never heard of. I loved working with start-ups and small companies because of the challenge and the truth of the relationship: I just needed to deliver.
Those first few years has been the ground for my practice; I learned a lot from all my clients. Specifically, I learned from marketers and CEOs. From the marketing side, I learned to design a product for a specific market and attend its need. And from CEO, I learned that… it’s all about the bottom line.
I started crafting a methodology that will incorporate all aspects.
My sense of purpose shifted: from being a “simple designer” to contributing to designing a business from the product angle. My intention wasn’t only to create products but to contribute to the growth of the company.
Specifically, I saw the growth in terms of Intellectual Property and Profit Margin. I
thought designers should have an input in those areas.
At that time, I was also attending many trainings in ergonomics, business model, sustainability. And I was having those conversations with my clients regarding the future of the planet and our environmental impact.
Then, I had to close my business and a couple of companies hired me, one being a giant multinational. My skills in design + business model lead me to launch a product that, according to my manager at the time, was a “money maker”. I have found a niche in the market that wasn’t addressed (Blue Ocean Strategy type of analysis), I designed a product just for that niche. I managed to take all the technology that was already available in the business so that we could limit the risks to the bare minimum and shorten the time to market.
The product was a huge success, we sold twice as much as our plan. In addition, the profit margin was four times the rest of the range. Yes, a “money maker”. But this success came with a sense of inadequacy. We managed to reduce our environmental impact with the Cradle to Cradle methodology, but I couldn’t quite see the positive social impact. Quite the contrary.
This led me to integrate this aspect to my design methodology, from now on I would design for the Triple Bottom Line: people, planet and profits. I left this giant corporation, met my wife
and moved to Australia. And for the last few years, I have been discussing with my clients the opportunity and benefits of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL). To demonstrate it, I even designed my own TBL product: Cablestop. Cable stop is a cable management device: think of a paperweight, but ingenious, and for cables. Cable stop can adapt to any height of cables you have on your desk. Just place Cablestop on the wire, and it’s secure: no more sliding cables behind the desk and fighting with cobwebs! No more unidentified tangled cables: all well organised on your office. Cable stop was successfully crowdfunded a couple of years ago. For me, this product is the embodiment of the Triple Bottom Line: it’s profitable, the design has been simplified to the core for sustainability reasons: 3 parts only, 2 materials, both recyclable and reusable. The product had a long life span and is easy to dismantle at the end of life, therefore easy to recycle. Cable stop is manufactured in Portugal, where it’s benefiting a village and people I know and has a positive social impact.
All this was good, but again, my sense of purpose wasn’t filled. I thought, this is still not enough, how can I have a bigger impact?
About four years ago, I decided to look for an international designer that would speak about thoughtful design, environmental sustainability and positive social impact. I remember that day quite vividly: I was sitting at my desk, in front of my laptop, and watching talks from designers. TED, DLD, Wobi talks and so on, I looked at different platform but couldn’t find anyone.
It was a beautiful day outside, all sunny, and quite an enjoyable day to look for a figure I could follow. But, suddenly, the conditions changed: a dark could mask the sun abruptly, and at that moment, this changed the light conditions in my office. At that instant, I saw my face on the monitor.
The impressions I had was: “yes, there is someone that cares about all this, and that can speak about that on stage”.
You have to understand I’m an introvert. At that time, I thought I did a pretty good job to hide from the world, work for a few clients and have meetings with just a few people. This was something different.
My first reaction was: I’m horrified. There is no way I’m doing this!
But again, this notion of purpose kicked in after a few days: if not you, who? If not now, when?
I started considering what it would take to become a professional speaker. I joined Toastmasters and PSA (Professional Speaking Australia). My angle was the following: if I’m going to be on stage, then, I want and need to have an impact. As an expert, it’s tempting to talk about the technicalities of design, but no one would care, in my mind, this was the recipe for a boring speech. I needed to learn the craft of public speaking and storytelling. I dropped Toastmasters and stayed with PSA after a few months.
Since then, I did many presentations and keynotes (the last one was in September this year), and I keep learning and improving at every step of the way. I have been to several PSA conventions, and I was told a few times I should do a TEDx talk. The idea never occurred to me!
A few months ago, I thought I should learn how to apply for a TEDx so I took the first opportunity: TEDxCasey. I didn’t overthink the application process; I just wrote what I thought was “right” for me, what I wanted to see more in the world. On a Sunday evening, I received a call from the TEDxCasey team: I was in!
In just eight weeks, we’d have to present. I never rehearsed so much for a talk. I counted over 150 rehearsals, standing in my living room with some spotlights on my face, most of them with a piece of paper, the clicker on the other hand and my laptop with the slides in front of me.
On the day, I was given the last spot in the evening. I would be on stage at 10:00 pm. I spoke about design and impact. I believe that all of us have an impact and that we can be more conscious and proactive about it. The time needs it.
This TEDx talk confirmed me in my purpose, and now this purpose is evolving again. I think it will get bigger!
Do you want to know where it will lead me? Follow my journey, and me; we’ll find out together!