Could you take a bite out of your own business?

Becoming the cannibal

Sketch 3. Image: Cult of Mac

Earlier this week an article by Marc Hemeon of Design Inc. popped up on my feed.

It’s a quick guide to putting together a logo in 5 minutes, without hiring a designer.

Design Inc. is a marketplace for hiring high quality designers.

Does this sound a little counter-intuitive?

The comments below the line range from gratitude and excitement to bemusement to admonishment.

As you may guess, the latter mainly comes from people in the design community.

https://journal.designinc.com/how-to-make-a-logo-for-free-in-about-5-minutes-a4f409176a8e#.u10qcce4h

This very handy piece of content marketing is great for entrepreneurs wanting to get add some design credibility to an early-stage idea, but when it comes to creating and developing a true brand identity it takes much more than 5 minutes and a blog post. Hemeon makes this clear in the first two paragraphs but it appears it didn’t land with some of the outraged.

I don’t believe that guides like this are damaging to the design industry, but the article did get me thinking about the concept of cannibalising parts of your own business.

I take the view that this does two things;
– Empowers others to do something they couldn’t before, and better understand the expertise of the professional practitioner
– Pushes the professional practitioners to develop their offering and expertise

Cannibalisation is connected to disruptive innovation, described by Clay Christensen as follows:

As companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ needs evolve, most organizations eventually end up producing products or services that are actually too sophisticated, too expensive, and too complicated for many customers in their market.

Companies pursue these “sustaining innovations” at the higher tiers of their markets because this is what has historically helped them succeed: by charging the highest prices to their most demanding and sophisticated customers at the top of the market, companies will achieve the greatest profitability.

However, by doing so, companies unwittingly open the door to “disruptive innovations” at the bottom of the market. An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers at the bottom of a market access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.

Characteristics of disruptive businesses, at least in their initial stages, can include: lower gross margins, smaller target markets, and simpler products and services that may not appear as attractive as existing solutions when compared against traditional performance metrics. Because these lower tiers of the market offer lower gross margins, they are unattractive to other firms moving upward in the market, creating space at the bottom of the market for new disruptive competitors to emerge.

An example of this is Sketch disrupting Photoshop in the design software market. Marc Hemeon’s article adds a taste of cannibalisation — he’s inviting disruption to come and eat a bit of his own business.


Cannibalising your own business often means you should find ways you can be better.

Design as a practice is very unlikely to be eaten whole by technology and open source methodologies. However, quick-step guides like Hemeon’s indicate that designers should continue to take the harder route to avoid commoditisation.

They should be considered a true partner and advisor as well as a maker, being in the position to deliver holistic and creative solutions to their clients’ business challenges.

Sometimes we have to cannibalise parts of our own business to become better and be more valuable to our clients and customers.

Could you cannibalise a part of your own business to become better in the long term?

The Bookshelf: Boris Johnson meets the $12m Shark

Some digital detoxing has really helped with increasing my focus on reading books over the last couple of months. I found my appetite for reading dropping a lot in the Autumn, and laying off digital media a bit seems to have helped.

I’m also trying to cut down on shorter form content (including blog posts — yes, the irony of this article is not lost on me) and to focus more on journals and books in subjects that I’m curious about.

The sources of discovery for this book list has been very mixed; I’ve been given some excellent recommendations for new (and old) titles from people who know I’m getting close to the launch of my next venture; additionally a couple got found in pretty unorthodox ways, as you’ll read below…

So without further ado, here’s my current reading list — a mix of art, audience, A3 licenses and architecture.


The $12m Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art

The $12m stuffed shark

Economics professor Don Thompson delves into the contemporary art industry, profiling dealers, gallerists, artists and market forces that make this sector so hard for outsiders to understand.

I got particularly interested in this when thinking about what other entertainment sectors can learn from how modern art works. The key takeaway is branding, provenance and patronage are the center, with Charles Saatchi and Larry Gagosian being the leaders in the latter and often also the former.

Outside of the business side of the modern art world, a recent visit to the Chisenhale Gallery in London further perplexed me. Whilst the concept behind the exhibition was interesting and made sense, the execution didn’t feel like art at all to me. Thus, can the idea alone be considered art?

Thanks to Toby Benson for the book recommendation.

Further reading: Talking Prices by Olav Velthuis


The Mayor of London: An A-Z of Planning and Culture


Something a little more obscure: I came across this in the reception area of a company I was visiting. It felt like a slightly peculiar item for them to have, but nonetheless it’s a very handy and interesting little booklet.

In the Autumn, Mayor of London Boris Johnson called on planners, developers and local authorities to put culture and creativity at the forefront when planning and designing developments in the capital.

However, London is set to lose 3,500 artist studios in the next five years, a third of the capital’s creative workspace, whilst a third of grassroots live music venues have disappeared since 2007. Second Home’s collaboration with Bold Tendencies to create 800 artist studios in Peckham got rejected last year, and rents in well-known creative districts such as Shoreditch are continuing to increase at a bewildering rate.

I’m becoming increasingly interested in the new ways in which physical space can be used for work, education and entertainment, and this guide was a good primer ahead of delving deeper.

I look forward to seeing whether the next London mayor is set to increase or reverse the shift of creative workplaces being turned into (high-end) residential.

A PDF of the guide can be downloaded here


Protein — Audience Survey


I was a bit dubious about this when I picked it up.

Does the world need any more thought leadership, trend forecasting and brand activations around various flavours of millennial bleeding edge influencer tastemaker early adopters? Probably not, but that definitely ain’t gonna stop anyone…

Considerable dose of cynicism aside, there’s a lot of interesting insight between the reassuringly heavy duty cover pages, and I found the data, views and new company tip-offs around social good and sustainability particularly engaging. Nicely designed and a tight concise read, worth checking out.


Offscreen Magazine


My discovery of this came through (maybe fittingly) an Airbnb listing in Los Angeles. In one of the listing’s photos, an edition of Offscreen issue 12 was on the table at the edge of the shot. Some of the features looked interesting, so I checked out their website, loved the story behind it and went to my local stockist to pick up a copy. (The Airbnb booking got cancelled by the host a week before arrival, but the inadvertent recommendation made up for it…)

Offscreen is an independent magazine that takes an in-depth look at the life and work of people that use the internet to be creative and build successful businesses. It’s founded by a chap called Kai Brach, based in Melbourne.

The design is as wonderful as you’d expect, and the features are insightful and relatable — ways to improve productivity, reasons for failure, behind the scenes of projects and a whole lot more. They also have a well-balanced attitude to advertising; partners are clearly picked carefully and the relationship between them and publication feels very authentic.

Whilst Offscreen is aimed more at designers and developers, as more of a ‘business’ person I still got a whole load of goodness from it. Go grab it!


Read any of these? Let me know here or on @howardgray on Twitter