It takes strength


Joanna Montgomery graduated from DJCAD in 2010 with a brilliant idea, an enterprising spirit and a huge sense of determination. The concept was a simple but powerful one that resonated with people worldwide. Indeed, while still a student she had thousands of likes on her Facebook page and a You Tube video that today has attracted 850,000 views.

She started out by entering pitching competitions to raise capital (which she won) and working the media to build interest including BBC, CNN, Huffington Post – of which she became one of their regular bloggers. And of course, most importantly, working out how to bring it to market – in design, technical and business terms. From the pitching competitions arose her reputation as an inspirational speaker, culminating in her TEDx talk earlier this year.

There were setbacks along the way, many of which would have caused others to have given up, but not her. Some of the challenges arose from her position as a young woman in a male-dominated tech culture. She not only took these on, but wrote powerfully about them, so that others could benefit from her journey.

Yesterday Joanna launched Pillow Talk on Kickstarter. I never doubted for one moment that Pillow Talk would launch. Joanna excelled in the three vital aspects of enterprise – creativity, communication and commitment. She had powerful, relevant and innovative ideas, she perfected the craft of how to inspire others in this vision and in her journey, and she was committed totally to that journey.

And just about every year throughout this difficult and demanding journey, she found the time to come back to Dundee and talk to my students for an hour (or put up with them visiting her), never failing to inspire and generate huge interest. And if that isn’t enough, this inspirational entrepreneur found the time to train and compete to become England’s strongest woman.

But watching her transformation from a person who lived in “a body that I didn’t like” to a confident woman who could pull large trucks up hills with her bare hands, demonstrated something else. Strength is a skill, and skills are learned. The reason my students (and of course many others) find her inspiring is because she shows that with determination and focus, then we can all achieve strength in our work and lives.

Alongside strength, Joanna has another quality which we rarely encourage in entrepreneurs, but which marks her out – honesty – which is often a quality many find difficult to deal with. Her best Huffington Post pieces exemplify this honesty: “I’m OK, You’re OK – But Are We Really?”, “How to Take Care of Yourself When No One Else Will”, “Pretty Face and Thick Skin: Flourishing in a Male World”. I’ve read a fair number of books by entrepreneurs, and very few (if any, frankly) display honesty, which is why I recommend these pieces by Joanna to my students.

Yes, it takes strength: the strength to get through failure and setbacks; the strength to be totally honest; the strength to stay the course.

And as a former tutor, I’m very proud of that achievement.


Design in Dundee – Autumn’s highlights


Dundee really is living up to its designation as the UK’s sole UNESCO City of Design. Even in just the next few weeks there’s is a whole host of events and activities that embrace design.

  • Friday 9th October 2015 – I am chairing ‘Design Experts in Discussion’ at the Vision Building, and we have some amazing design people taking part. It’s free but you need a ticket in advance.
  • Friday and Saturday – Scotland Re:designed, a new dedicated showcase of Scottish Interiors – within which the experts discussion is taking place – created for designers and makers to exhibit, gain mentoring, support and provide business opportunities, as well as an opportunity for design enthusiasts to immerse themselves in the best of Scottish design. There will be a unique pop-up shop to purchase beautiful design that may not be readily available on the high street. Again, free – but get a ticket. Details for both here:
  • For just this week (up to 10th October) Stagecoach is running an old Routemaster bus on the 73 route between Ninewells and Arbroath. This bus, that entered use in London during 1956, is a design classic. It was the first bus to use lightweight aluminium construction using methods developed from the aircraft industry.
  • The next Make/Share event takes place on Wed 14th October from 7-8.30pm at Dundee MakerSpace, also down at the Vision building. This time around, four speakers will give short informal talks about their experience, thoughts, inspirations around Collaborative Working. These include ex-DJCAD jewellery designer Scarlett Erskine, independent game designer Malath Abbas, and Becca Clark and Ruth Aitken who collaborate as a duo, Bhuntang Marmalade.
  • Make Works, a factory finding platform for artists, designers and makers and Creative Dundee are bringing Maker Speed Dater to Dundee on Thursday 22nd October. The event provides an opportunity for 20 designers and 20 manufacturers to have a conversation and learn about what can be made in Dundee. A bit like speed dating, but for finding new projects and contacts to work with locally. Tickets are £6, and worth every penny.
  • During Dundee Literary Festival I will be hosting one of the lunchbox talks session entitled Designing Stories and will be in conversation with Holly Scanlan, Dundee born hairstylist and author of popular blog GGBOBSHERHAIR. The focus is very much on blogging. Tickets are £5, but that includes lunch. Dinner and a show. What’s not to like? The whole Festival has some great stuff going on including Nick Frost and Jeanette Winterson. A preview of some of the best bits here.
  • Dundee’s Wasps Open Studios takes place at Meadow Mill on 24th & 25th October. In addition to going around and meeting the designers, makers and artists who work there, you can also attend workshops. These include: Design Demonstrations with Judith McDowall, Introduction to Sand Casting with Robin Bell, and a Drop in and Draw session. Details here.
  • The Pecha Kucha tickets for 10 November have gone on sale for £5 each – a great evening of talks! Details here.
  • Then of course there’s the Internet Yami-­ichi – a flea market where people gather and exchange “Internet­-ish” things in real life. Launched in Tokyo in 2012, since then it has travelled to Berlin, Sapporo, Brussels and Amsterdam. Now it will be in Dundee on 14 November. Book a stall and sell your internet-related things.
  • We are also just finalising plans for the next Dundee Touchpoint – an evening of creative service design open to anyone for free! Details will be posted on our Facebook page.

Achieving relevance

My lecture to First Year students at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD) on 8 October 2015 emphasised how the achievement of relevance is a fundamental aim to their four years of study. Find what is relevant to you and to the world around you; use this to guide your creative strategies and developing technical skills. The lecture wove together the themes of relevance, creativity and craft – and at the end of this post are resources to help you explore these themes in more detail.

But why listen to me about how you should be thinking about your next four years at Art School? I asked five remarkably talented individuals to give you their advice, all of whom studied at DJCAD. One graduated six years ago, while another graduated in 1993. Between them they embrace a range of creative disciplines. All of them are inspiring people, who needed no encouragement to share with you their advice on how to get the best from Art School.

James Donald is one of Scotland’s most successful weavers, selling his work all over the world – particularly in the United States. Based in Edinburgh he allies his creative practice to being joint-owner of the successful Concrete Wardrobe retail outlet. Here is a message from James to you:

Johanna Basford is a remarkably versatile illustrator who studied printed textiles at DJCAD. This year, as creator of the first colouring books for adults – she became one of the top selling authors on Amazon worldwide. Apart from designing the catalogue for the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she has acquired an enviable client roster across many different industries from Channel 4 to Absolut Vodka. Her blog post 50 things I wish I’d known in art school is required reading. But below is her personal message to new DJCAD students:

Lauren Currie is co-founder of Snook – a social innovation and service design company based in Glasgow. Studying both Product Design and the Master of Design course at DJCAD, Lauren’s career has begun with a remarkable start, and she is now running a company that has the Chinese Government among their clients.

Joanna Montgomery graduated in 2010 in Interactive Media Design, is Director of Little Riot whose Pillow Talk product has proved a viral sensation on YouTube, as we saw in the lecture. In exchange for her valuable advice, Joanna asks that you vote for Little Riot in a national competition, to make Pillow Talk a reality. I am sure you will support Joanna in this competition. It will take you a minute!

Kate Pickering studied Jewellery & Metal Design and the Master of Design at DJCAD. Since graduating she has established Vanilla Ink, a highly acclaimed initiative to bridge the gap for jewellery students into industry. Kate won funding from the NESTA Starter For Six scheme to launch her initiative. An accomplished teacher in jewellery and design, this is her advice to you:

Why not follow these designers on Twitter? This will help you keep up-to-date with their activities and give you more insights into their professional practices. All of them use Twitter as a key part of their professional practice. Click on their names to access their twitter stream: James Donald, Johanna Basford, Lauren Currie, Joanna Montgomery, Kate Pickering. You’ll also find me on Twitter. Once you have set up a Twitter account, then you can follow them.

Achieving relevance referred to a number of artists, designers and events that you may wish to explore further.

Dundee – support for Calais refugee camp

Those in Dundee and Angus may be interested in this.

A van is leaving Carnoustie next Wednesday (9th) heading for the refugee camp in Calais.

They are looking for the following to be donated:

  • SHELTER – Sleeping bags, tents, blankets, pallets, canvas sheets, tarps.
  • CLOTHING – Belts, rucksacks, bags, shoes, socks, underwear, hoodies, waterproofs, jackets, hats, scarfs, gloves, bags, towles, trousers, jeans, t-shirts, jumpers, babys and childrens clothes.
  • HYGIENE – Toilet bags, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, tissues, sanitary products, tissues, toilet roll, mouthwash, razors, shaving foam, brushes, combs, bobbles, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, deodrant, wet wipes.
  • FOOD – Tinned food, rice, pasta, oil, sauces, sugar, flour, packet food, longlife milk, tea, coffee, juice, water, baby milk and food.
  • ADDITIONAL – Candles, torches batteries, pots, pans, lighters, cups, baby bottles, anything which will help.

Collection points:

  • Carnoustie – Panmure Centre – 141 Kinloch St -10am to 4pm Monday to Friday
  • Marianne Scott – 1B Woodside Terrace – 6pm onwards – Ring Buzzer – not Wednesday but any other day
  • Monifeith – Seaview Primary School – Ask for Joe Whaite – 10am – 3pm Monday to Friday
  • Dundee – Metalurgey – 40 Dock Street – Ask for Kimbo – 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday
  • Arbroath – 61 Dishlandtown Street – Ask for Jilly Anderson
  • Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, reception desk during office hours
  • Fluph knitting shop – 164 Blackness Road – during opening hours

Marianne Scott (who I don’t personally know) is organising this and doing the drive. She’s unemployed and using her savings for the petrol and ferry ticket, so financial donations also help. There’s a bank account set up, but probably safest to get details from her rather than for me to post it here.

Scottish innovation: design and democracy


We are perhaps seduced into believing that the UK is moving into the Harry Potter economy, in which so-called ‘creative’ industries, such as film production, television and publishing drive wealth creation and employment. Indeed, some years ago it was suggested that boy bands contributed more to the GDP than the aerospace sector. While I’ve never been able to fully examine the veracity of this claim, the day after One Direction called it a day, I paid a visit to the Tayside firm of Scott & Fyfe. The broad product portfolio of this textiles manufacturer includes composites that stitch bond together glass, carbon, aramid and other high performance fibres in products that are used in a range of sectors, including aerospace. While this company’s turnover may not quite be up there with the world’s top grossing music act, they represent a sector that is vital to the UK economy. The textiles industry in Scotland has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years, contributing over £1 billion to the economy, and generating considerable export earnings. There are currently around 570 companies Scottish textiles manufacturers directly employing around 9,000 people. In Scotland we still make things. But we make them, and create them very differently, and Scott & Fyfe shows us a unique way of doing things.

The company  has a 150 year history as a manufacturer of technical textiles, from its base in the small coastal town of Tayport in the north east corner of Fife. What it weaves and knits are the textiles that are used to create motorcycle helmets, rubber underlay backing, irrigation piping systems, bus interiors, yacht hulls, water slides, truck wind deflectors and much else. This company, which has a global reach in highly competitive markets, is a hidden gem of Scottish innovation. For me, its significance and inspiration comes from its unique fusion of design and democracy that creates an aspirational, highly creative firm that values and fully uses the skills and insights of its employees.

The global economic crash of the late 2000’s coincided with a crisis in the company’s fortunes. But its slide towards crisis was caused less by recession and more by its long-term failure to innovate and develop new products.


“Ours is a business of failure”, said Michaela Millar, the hugely impressive Business Development Officer who had invited me to the company. Michaela’s background is in textiles design from DJCAD, but it is evident that her responsibilities go far beyond a design brief. She explained to me that the company’s varied markets demanded constant innovation and bringing new products to the market. Most of these products will fail, so the task is to learn from failure, build on success and move on.

In our risk averse culture, this attitude is refreshing and places Scott & Fyfe in a rare group of organisations which have succeeded in finding strategies that innovate through encouraging creativity.

Talking to me in one of the innovation pods in a huge open area adjoining the factory, painted in primary colours and floored in astroturf, Michaela told me how two key developments pulled this ailing family-run firm back from the brink. In 2010 the company began to work with Glasgow School of Art’s Design Innovation Studio, to explore how creative thinking and innovation could infuse its culture and operations. This resulted in a range of tools and methods being explored and applied in the company. This opened them up to new perspectives and – crucially – new thinking tools that could be applied to new product development.


Joined by Business Manager, Michelle Quadrelli, the two spoke to me with obvious passion and enthusiasm how this design-led strategy was quickly accompanied by a move towards employee ownership. In December 2012 Scott & Fyfe evolved from a fourth generation family owned firm to a fully employee owned enterprise. The workforce is fully informed and briefed on what the firm is doing, and above all is valued in terms of their knowledge and skills. The tools provided by GSA are one means of harnessing this vital expertise, and turning it into new successful products.

This appears to be a vital element in the company’s success – and all too rare in the UK. Unlike Germany and the Scandinavian countries, industrial democracy has been notably absent from Britain’s industrial landscape. Perhaps predictably, it is on the agenda of none of our political parties, and it should be.

Scott & Fyffe shows another way ahead for our manufacturers – based on design and democracy. It embraces creativity – the creativity of ALL of its workforce. Far from pillorying failure, which is seemingly our national pastime, it uses failure as a useful source of learning. As Michaela said to me “we fail fast, and we fail often, and that way we do things better.” It uses methods of innovation and design thinking that I last saw being applied in California’s Silicon Valley. It trusts and it values its people. And yes, they are “people” not “human resources”.


Giving relatively untested employees like Michaela trust and responsibility is refreshing. Hers has been a steep learning curve, but the scope to explore new markets and possibilities has brought the very best out of this highly talented young woman. But that is my enduring impression of Scott & Fyfe – an enterprise that knows that its employees are its most valuable asset. Respect and value them, give them a stake in success, support them and give them tools and space to creative, design and take risks – and you will succeed.

With design and democracy, Scotland’s enterprise can be world class.

Pop Up Dundee – Making It Happen


The event we held in Dundee on 24 June to promote a pop up retail culture in the city was a great success, attracting a large and committed audience who listened to some great speakers and participated in four diverse workshops. We have put together this Storify on the event which captures its atmosphere, and details some of the key points made by speakers.

So what is the outcome of this event?


First, people are invited to put themselves on a register of interest. Simply download and return this enquiry_form. If you are proposing a food and/or drink pop up then additionally download and return the PopUpDundee_EnvironmentalHealthForms.

Second, a number of pop up market opportunities are being provided. These include a two day pop up market on November 20 and 21. Prior to this event there will be smaller events to help test and refine the concept and the offer to shoppers. Those on the register of interest will be contacted to advise them of the opportunities.

Third, the City Council is working with property companies and developers to help open up access to suitable buildings and other spaces in the city.

Finally, there are initial plans underway to hold further events at which we can learn lessons from initiatives elsewhere

And now it’s over to you…

Pop Up Dundee never has been about “the council” making pop ups happen. The City Council certainly can play a catalytic role in opening up opportunities, bringing people together and encouraging enterprise, but ultimately this is about providing space for creative enterprise to flourish and lead a renewal of the city.

So here is the idea…

City Centres are in trouble – and not just ‘post-industrial’ cities. Recent visits to affluent cities in the south east of England reveal the exact same problems that we face in Dundee – vacant shops, growing urban decay and a general tiredness and lack of vitality. Put simply, the economic model that in the past sustained urban centres no longer works. We shop differently, and expect different things of our city centres. We need to reinvent them.

Pop up enterprises have proven their worth as low cost ways of testing new business ideas and encouraging entrepreneurship. They add hugely to the life and vibrancy of towns and cities, and explore creative new ways of using spaces and places. How about throwing in a local currency?


Brixton and Bristol are among those places that have their own currency. Research suggests that use of a local currency raises cash flow within the independent business sector and boosts local employment. Not only does this contribute to a more sustainable local economy, but it provides strong social bonds within communities.

Now is the time for bold creative ideas and above all actions that can make new things happen in our city. If you want to help make change happen in Dundee, then get in touch.

Meanwhile, here’s some useful information!

Be a New Designers social media ninja!


In 2014 the week one Dundee (DJCAD) crew had more social media coverage than the rest of New Designers put together! Don’t believe me? Well check out this Storify from last year’s coverage. And what did that achieve? It contributed to a record increase in conventional media coverage, greatly increased visitor numbers to the stands, increased the opportunities for job offers, internships and exhibitions, and overall raised the attention and profile of all of our students.

Social media is not an optional add-on at an event like New Designers. It is totally essential. And it has to be considered strategically. Our graduates worked as a team to maximise coverage and to co-ordinate their efforts. Right from the start of their courses at DJCAD, we make sure that our students are effective and professional users of social media.

All students from every institution should make use of social media at New Designers to maximise the opportunities of the event. It isn’t rocket science, it’s actually quite straight forward. But from our experience in 2014, nobody else was doing this strategically.

So, this is what you do. Just make sure that you do it.

Step One. Work on your profiles for twitter and linkedin especially.


This is the profile for Rebecca Black, who in 2015 is in the One Year On show. She was our perfect Social Media Ninja! Rebecca realised that the profile you use is vital! Take out any reference to you being a student, and especially reference to your age. You are not a student. At New Designers you are a professional. Ensure that your social media profiles express this. Consider carefully how you will describe yourself and brand yourself. Ensure that you social media profiles have links to any website. Use your best quality images in these profiles.

Beth Spowart was another of our stars from last year, presenting a professional, expertly designed and informative profile for her twitter page. These things really matter. In fact they are vital if we want to be treated seriously and professionally. This has to be all in place before the next step.

Step two. Follow people

Between now and the opening of the show follow everyone you can who is relevant to your aspirations. This is on the assumption that 30% of the people you follow will follow you back. So look at who people just a few years down the line in your field are following. If you’re not following people like @TheDesignTrust or @coadg then you clearly are not serious about your future! Find out who they follow. Ideally you want to follow people who are likely to visit New Designers, because that’s the trick here!

Put yourself in the shoes of a busy retail buyer, gallery owner, or design manager who has 90 minutes scheduled in their diary to DO New Designers. As they walk up Upper Street, they check the twitter feed on their feed. What’s trending on #ND15? Last year it was Dundee. So they made a point of seeing us.

You need to do some detective work on figuring out who to follow. But in an hour you could usefully double your followers IF you focus on key leaders in your field and trust your instinct.

Step three. Have images, use hashtags


What tweets do you really notice and read? The ones with images. If I want to be noticed then I’ll use an image to ensure that my reader lingers on my tweet in their feed. Load your phone with at least 10 (or 20) of your most compelling photos of your work. You can use these to drive your twitter posts in the first day or so. But bear in mind that most twitter readers on phones show an image that is 1 high by 2 wide. It crops whatever you post. Use this to your advantage. Think killer images! And put text into them. If you don’t have space in the tweet to put the stand number or other details then simply put this into the image. If you don’t know how to do this then I’m not sure you should really be at New Designers.

Then ensure that in every tweet you use the correct New Designers hashtag, you refer to your institution twitter handle ( in our case it’s @DJCAD ) because then they will retweet (assuming they get social media) and you use the stand number. Make sure you find out what the hashtag is for the event this year. I think it’s #ND15. If you don’t put the stand number, how will they find you?

Step four. Broadcast all success


DJCAD Dundee students win more prizes at New Designers that those of any institution. We generally win a prize every year. Two last year. That is because our students are really very good indeed! Above is Rebecca McGill from 2014 having just won the John Lewis prize.

Now, when a person in your team wins a prize EVERYONE benefits, if you pitch it right. There is an immediate increase in footfall to see what amazing institution the student is from. But we can help lift this even further.

Every time a person wins something, or gets a job or anything, tweet it! But always remember image, hashtag, institution twitter name, stand number. Last year within 35 minutes of me tweeting Rebecca McGill’s prize, the story was being run by STV back in Scotland. The more traction you get on twitter, the more it will be picked up at the event itself and rebroadcast. Following journalists back home, and asking them to follow you can really help here.

Step five. Run stories on well known visitors

If a prominent visitor polls up, take their photo, name check them and broadcast, as we did here when the UK’s most prominent design blogger visited us. If a TV crew turns up then do likewise. You want to broadcast and share all evidence that your stand is the best show in town and that you know how to tell a good story. But ALWAYS remember hashtag, institution twitter handle, stand number.

Step six. Retweet

Retweet what other people in your team is posting. You almost certainly have different followers, and in most cases modest numbers of followers, so you have to punch above your weight. You do this by working as a team and reposting or retweeting what your colleagues have posted.

Step seven. Storify it


One person should be tasked with collating a Storify of the week. Apart from anything else it gives you a great account of the week that you can look back on. But if you update it every day you can see how the strategy is working, and what things are getting attention.

Step eight. Enjoy it

New Designers is an amazing experience and a great platform for launching your career. But the chances you get from it are not down to luck. They are a consequence of your strategic approach. Have fun. Be strategic. Focus on your objectives.