Creative Development. Employing design in helping creative practitioners transition into a money-generating sustainable practice
29 June 2018
Parr, A (2018). Creative Development. Employing design in helping creative practitioners transition into a money-generating sustainable practice. (A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Master of Professional Practice at Otago Polytechnic with a special focus on Environmental Management.)
This report provides documentation of a research process into the Christchurch creative community and asks the question about what kind of support the creative practitioners may require in order to succeed commercially. The methods include qualitative research, in-depth interviews, analysis and user testing. The development of research, business model, iterations and evaluation are covered in sections of this document and demonstrate various challenges creative practitioners face in developing a creative practice, the proposed solution and the feedback and refinement of the business model developed in response to the findings.
My interest in this project followed my fourteen-year career as a tertiary educator and a graphic designer, and has intensified in the post-earthquake landscape of the Christchurch creative community. The break down of various systems and networks, the scarcity of resources and the isolation of creative practitioners have become evident through conversations with artists and makers. Being accepted into the MProfPrac programme and proposing to explore this problem as my research project has provided me with an opportunity to explore the challenges within the local creative community. The acceptance of formal proposal earlier in this programme followed by the ethical committee’s approval (included in MProfPrac Course 2 Appendices section) preceded an interesting learning, research and development process.
I began my research with a general idea that there may be a way to support the many and varied creative practitioners in the city in the areas of business basics, brand building and self-promotion and that user experience design (UX), communication and education had a role to play there. Through interviewing practitioners, exploring literature, researching available support in New Zealand and internationally and through user testing, I iterated and refined the very broad idea, modifying my expectations and correcting my own assumptions along the way. The pivotal step in the process has been the development of a website to illustrate the ideas and tools, which has given the concept a tangible form and will allow me to potentially introduce the result as a real-life business into the Christchurch creative community in the future.
Findings and Conclusions
Creative practitioners need support. Some practitioners have little interest in taking care of all the different aspects of their practice and need to have things taken care of in order to be able to focus on the making of their work. Others want to learn everything about running their own show, from website to promotion to tax. Many practitioners hold part-time employment unrelated to their practice and need to fit their practice within many other commitments. Some may have a partner supporting them financially but they also have other commitments such as childcare, running a household, etc. For others, a creative practice is a shift made later in life where their running expenses are lower and they can prioritise taking up and investing in a creative practice with less pressure on income generation. Despite a variety of specialties, scenarios and circumstances, the common theme I found is one of “There is not enough hours in the day to learn everything and take care of everything in order to create, brand, market and sell work as a one-person enterprise”.
For most creative practitioners, the solution would be to a). consistently chipping away at branding, business, strategy, selfpromotion, networking and sales over time or: b). a combination of outsourcing some functions that are either the least interesting or the most challenging to them or would take the longest to become proficient at and instead learning other skills so they can carry out some of the tasks themselves. The make/shift business concept fits into those varied needs and circumstances and can be successful in providing a comprehensive support to artists and makers once fully developed.
Recommendations for action
The research finds various challenges and barriers faced by creative practitioners when attempting to build a sustainable practice - from the necessary knowledge in a number of subjects (eg business strategy, social media management, brand development, financial, etc.) to fear of being seen as overly commercial by their peers. A comprehensive support system delivered by a group of experts is likely to find its customer base. It is worth finalising and testing it in the market, following some more necessary market research.
Learner and Practice
During the period this project my practice has transformed in multiple ways; through the learning I undertook and through circumstance which in turn supported the change. Initially, I applied for the MProfPrac programme while in my last role leading the graphic design department at a tertiary college. Shortly before I started the programme, the college where I was working went through a restructuring process where I was made redundant and eventually the college closed down some time within the following year. Consequently I have made a decision to return to the industry and to practicing design and to take an indefinite break from teaching design. The MProfPrac programme allowed me to develop additional skills within the design field and supplement my print design expertise with start up and entrepreneurship related knowledge as well as to dedicate some time to researching and developing a business concept which I can implement. As far as my returning to the design industry, my current position at a design agency involves clients who are creative professionals and are building their creative businesses. Being able to have an insight into this process and assist in this process through learning new skills such as web design and social media management has been beneficial to both my own practice and to my current project.
This thesis is not publicly available. The executive summary is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 4.0 International License.