Posts tagged with business:

The Art of Wine: Conversations with Eric Kent Wine Cellars

Kent Humphrey & Colleen Teitgen-Humphrey, the owners Eric Kent Wine Cellars, were our guest speakers at Karten Design’s second Conversations of 2012.

Eric Kent Wines, an award-winning boutique wine label that features emerging artist’ work on their bottles, is a family affair run out of a cooperative in Santa Rosa, CA: Kent, Colleen, and Kent’s sister Renee Humphrey run the business. Kent makes the wine; Colleen curates and produces the artist labels; and Renee distributes the wines in restaurants and wine stores.

The idea to create their own wine label was conceived 10 years ago when Colleen was still in art school and Kent was running his own advertising agency. Kent, who holds no formal winemaking degree but is a self-proclaimed “hyper-enthusiastic wine geek,” and Colleen, an artist and former art director, decided to combine their love for wine and art and founded Eric Kent, whose name is an inversion of Kent’s first and middle name. At that time they knew they wanted to make wine, but had no idea what their label would look like. With so many artists surrounding Colleen on a daily basis and seeing the need for unknown artists to get exposure, the idea to feature art as part of their labels seemed like a natural extension of their passions.

In the 10 years they’ve been operating Eric Kent Wine Cellars, Conversations was the first time the couple shared their story together. Kent said that until now they tell their stories individually and differently, so they were excited to be able to share for the first time as a unit. And we were excited that Conversations provided an opportunity for them to do so as we believe Conversations is a forum for sharing stories that inspire. It also reinforced that Conversations is just as inspiring and beneficial for the speakers as it is for us Karten Designers. To tell their story, Kent and Colleen took us through visual tours of the label art curatorial and winemaking processes.

It was inspiring to meet and hear people who are passionate, taking big risks, and making things happen. Below are some of the takeaways from Conversations: The Art of Wine that are beneficial for anyone in any business.

The combination of art and wine is nothing new. As Kent mentioned, Mouton Rothschild has been putting Picasso, Miro, and other famous artists alongside the winery name on the front of their labels forever. But what makes Eric Kent unique is their display of deserving, but yet undiscovered talents whose work compliments the spirit of each vintage. As Colleen guided us through the process of how she chooses the label art, she explained that throughout the year she meets with numerous artists to experience their work and be inspired. Once the vintage is made, she will do a tasting to, similarly, experience the wine and be inspired. Then she’ll go back to the potential pieces she’s acquired that year, and will choose a few that set the tone for the vintage. The piece that evokes the same emotions as the wine is the art that eventually is featured on the label. To best describe the goal of the process, Colleen says the art must complement the spirit of the particular vintage. The Eric Kent story is manifested when consumers drink the wine, as the art brings an added dimension to the drinking experience by providing a conversation starter, as well as engaging multiple senses – taste and sight – in an emotional experience.

At the end of every Conversations, we have a Q&A where guests can interact with the speaker(s), often sparking in-depth discussions. Kent was asked if it hard to leave the corporate advertising world and start his own business. He replied no, it wasn’t. The hardest parts came after they started their wine business. And looking back, Kent said the key when taking a risk is to stay ignorant. If he had known how hard it was, he and Colleen probably wouldn’t have started Eric Kent Wines. His words were reminiscent of Steve Jobs, who advised in his famous commencement speech “to stay hungry, stay foolish” because if we didn’t we’d never have anything new. Similarly, Kent lived this maxim when he and Colleen first decided to start Eric Kent Wine Cellars. He considered entering University of California Davis for formal training in winemaking, but realized that many of the wines he most admired were crafted by people who had no academic training, thus they were not confined by convention and often invented their own unique way of making wine. Kent and Colleen’s bold career change is inspiring and a testament to the importance of risk-taking, and most importantly, staying ignorant.

Today, it can be argued that it is not enough to just have a product. Products need to be tied to a cause in order to differentiate themselves. Not only does it help cultivate a story for the product or brand, but also the product then resonates with the consumer more. With extensive experience in the advertising world, Kent and Colleen knew this better than anyone. Thus, they knew their wine needed to go beyond the grapes. The Humphreys took this to heart and have integrated their message and theme throughout the EK experience. By having artwork serve as the label for each vintage, Kent and Colleen provide emerging artists with the opportunity to get their work – be it a painting, poem, or photograph – in front of a larger audience than they’ve ever had. The Humphreys stay true to their cause and their brand story, incorporating the artists into every touch point of the EK experience. The labels are designed specifically to feature the artist’s unique work on one side and their name and contact information are printed on the other. The Humphreys also tell the artists’ stories on their website, show more examples of the artists’ work, and provide links to their websites. By being seen on EK labels, a number of artists have sold their work, received offers to be in shows or commissioned to produce new works. While Eric Kent Wines donates a portion of its sales to the artists who create the work on the labels, it’s the exposure that is invaluable to these artists.

When starting a new business, it’s helpful to follow the rules and use them as a loose guide. But often times, if you go by the book, you can get stuck in a rut between generic and conventional. Hence the importance of challenging the rules and tinkering to find alternative ways so that you can stand out and be different. Such as Kent and Colleen did with their wine labels. Traditionally, the front label on a bottle features the logo, graphics, and other branding elements while the back label is placeholder for government warnings and generic verbiage about soils and climate. But in order to feature art like they planned and give it the attention it deserves, Kent and Colleen realized after a few rounds of concepting that they needed to have two front labels. Despite the branding risk, they committed to showing nothing but the art on one side. They achieved this by playing around with the font size and the typography as well as the layout to design the “other” front label that has their own branding, contents of the bottle, the artists’ information, and the mandatories. Now, because they were not confined by the rules, the Eric Kent story can be shared on every bottle.

Before they poured their 2012 Small Town Pinot Noir, 2010 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, and 2009 Kalen’s Big Boy Blend Syrah for guests, Kent and Colleen concluded by saying that they keep doing what they do, and love what they do, because they get to create a product that facilitates positive experiences and makes people happy. As Kent said, “the way I see it, making wine, discovering new art, and sharing them both with others is about as good as it gets.”


Five Things Hollywood Teaches Us About Product Design

Just as scriptwriters and directors construct narratives that hook audiences, designers should develop products that tap into people’s primal emotions.

I live and work in Los Angeles, the land of celebrities and special effects, where I’ve witnessed the battle for big box-office draws and learned something from it. As product innovators, we also strive to create standout products that catch people’s attention. In our efforts to differentiate our designs from all the other stuff on the market, we might learn a lesson or two from Hollywood and the writers, actors, and directors who manage to hook their audiences by crafting narratives that tap into people’s primal emotions.

Grabbing consumers’ attention is getting harder. Johanna Blakley, a researcher at USC Annenberg School’s Norman Lear Center, theorizes that as we’re inundated with exponentially increasing amounts of information, the competition for eyeballs intensifies. In what she calls the “attention economy,” consumers access an abundance of information in the form of media, games, and advertisements. In fact, five exabytes of data are created and collected every two days! Product manufacturers have to compete with all of these other forms of entertainment, and it’s their job to make their products visible.

Working like Hollywood entertainers, Karten Design has investigated how to tap into raw, primeval emotions — fear, sex, humor, surprise, and desire — to garner attention. Here’s just a snapshot of where the strategy has succeeded in entertainment and design. (more)



Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck

“The scarcest resource for today’s business leaders is no longer just land, capital or human labor, and it certainly isn’t information. Attention is what’s in short supply..”

Bad Idea Friday: Shame-O-Vation

Our favorite champion of American innovation, Stephen Colbert, brings us another Bad Idea this week with the concept of shame-o-vation. In a nutshell: instead of using innovation to uncover unmet user needs, why not use shame-o-vation to uncover previously UNKNOWN user needs?

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Buy and Cellulite
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive


Advice for Standout CEOs: Embrace Creativity

GOOD Magazine today, in partnership with IBM, released a video, “Business in Uncertain Times.” We think it’s worth a watch!

This video is a great executive summary of IBM’s 2010 CEO Study, “Capitalizing on Complexity”—another resource we highly recommend. Our favorite take-away: 60 percent of CEOs identified creativity as the most important leadership attribute for the future.

The world today is more complex and uncertain than ever. Think back to the innocent days of just five years ago. The economy was booming, consumers were confident, sustainability was a small niche market, Facebook was for college students and Twitter was just a twinkle in Jack Dorsey’s eye! Now businesses grapple with changing consumer values and lifestyles driven by economic uncertainty, demographic shifts and rapidly advancing technology.

Successful companies are those that challenge popular thinking, take risks and generate new ideas. This is what creativity is all about, and approaching problems creatively can help companies harness complexity and turn it into competitive advantage.

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5 Lessons from Pop-up Businesses

Pop-up businesses achieve success by being temporary, hard to find and transient– qualities that seem to fly in the face of traditional business logic. Yet since 2008, businesses such as food trucks and pop-up shops have emerged by the hundreds and, despite a recession, grown revenue at a rate most brick and mortar establishments would envy.
We’ve followed this trend at Karten Design and, in the latest event in our Conversations series, decided to explore the strategies that have propelled pop-ups to prosperity. We invited the owners of Los Angeles’ most prominent pop-ups, including CoolHaus, Green Truck, NomNom and Royal/T, to join us and share their stories. Although there are many different strategies these businesses employ to stand apart, we’ve outlined some common threads that any business, mobile or not, can take away.

Stand for something. Each of the businesses we spoke with stood for more than just food or shopping. CoolHaus’s founders, both architecture enthusiasts, name their ice cream sandwiches after LA’s most influential designers to stimulate conversations and build awareness. NomNom has a mission of bringing authentic Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches to neighborhoods outside of Little Saigon. Green Truck started to give construction workers access to healthy, organic food on the job site and continues to operate all trucks on renewable fuel sources. Royal/T presents its customers with an authentic contemporary Japanese experience and introduces the cosplay style of performance art. Yes, customers gravitate to their delicious food. But having a mission and offering an experience that people can feel good about is a recipe for customer loyalty.

Build a recognizable brand. Without a fixed location, pop-up businesses need to promote themselves, their current locations and their new offerings continually. One key to their success under these circumstances is a strong brand with instant visual recognition. NomNom in particular uses its trucks as visual billboards that are visible on the street from the freeway. One consistent graphic Royal/T uses to identify themselves, despite changing sales, is the pink crown. This ensures customers recognize a consistent brand, even through Royal/T’s content might change.

Know your customers intimately. The business owners we spoke with closely monitor customers’ response to their brands, products and services. Susan Hancock, owner of Royal/T, reads every review on Yelp and frequently responds to customers. Freya Estreller of CoolHaus uses customer photos from Twitter to ensure quality of service, making sure that each ice cream sandwich served is big, beautiful and highly satisfying. Because they’re flexible by nature, pop-ups can quickly make changes based on customer needs.

Turn customers into stakeholders. With Twitter contests for naming the newest addition to the NomNom fleet or to coin the next NomNom Word of the Week (last week’s winner: “Nom-nivore”), Jennifer Green and Misa Chien offer customers the opportunity for emotional investment into their brand. CoolHaus similarly adapts their offerings to the needs of the customer; at the Conversations event, SKD’s logo was printed onto the edible wrappers and we were able to provide input on which flavors we’d like them to offer. In essence, CoolHaus was infused with SKD for the evening.

Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself. “Throw a bunch of shit on the wall and see what sticks.” Though Green Truck’s Kam Miceli quickly recanted this remark, we think there’s something to it. Pop-ups, with all of their impermanence, have the chance to re-invent themselves whenever necessary. Kam himself has served food to audiences and locations from construction sites to Century City office parks to production catering in the desert. CoolHaus is moving into new cities and moving beyond its food truck roots through retail partnerships with locations like Whole Foods. With each partial reinvention, pop-up businesses are using a key part of the design process: iteration. Or course, most brick and mortar businesses have more constants and constraints than pop-ups, but they can still benefit from an iterative process for integrating new ideas, practices and products.

Idris Mootee

In today

Spotlight on: Pop-ups!

Companies like food trucks and pop-up retail and art spaces have achieved success by being temporary, hard to find and other qualities that seem to defy traditional business logic. SKD’s Rob Tennant blogged on this phenomenon here.

These transient spaces are part of an emerging business model that has found tremendous success in a city full of change. We’ve reached out to LA’s best food trucks + pop-up retail spaces and are

Stage Fright Over Stage-Gate

Is your product development process stifling innovation?

Across the thirty some odd years I have worked in project and design management, I have been exposed to a plethora of methods and tools to manage projects and find that Holy Grail: product innovation. But my feelings on their effectiveness are conflicted to an extent that produces nausea.

One of the most popular methods large organizations use for managing development projects is Stage-Gate™. Back in mid 1980’s, Dr. Robert Cooper wrote a book titled Winning at New Products, and within it gave birth to this product innovation process. Now if you are not privy to Stage-Gate, or have been living in a cave for the past few decades, it simply involves organizing work in a series of Stages with reviews or Gates in between. To move from Stage to Stage, you favorably pass through a Gate review. This precaution ensures the product under development still makes business sense as it moves from idea to launch.

Like any good method or tool, Stage Gate has its advocates and critics. The critics suggest Stage-Gate is too slow, cumbersome, homogenizing and a downright killer of innovation. Advocates suggest the critics experience problems not because the method is flawed, but because they are not conducting or applying the method correctly.

As an “advocrit” I am not sure where I stand on this issue. I was educated in industrial design, learning strategies for unbridled creativity. Then during my career I’ve been immersed in a lot of product development mumbo jumbo that has threatened to make me into a believer. But I witness organizations and the people within them struggling to understand or adapt to their development methods.

I’ve worked on projects where the Gate reviews became the critical focus. It seemed they were the project goal, instead of ensuring the product was ready for the next stage of work and eventually for production and market. It actually got to a point where risk would accumulate over each stage because no one wanted to admit to issues that would cause an unsuccessful gate review. As if it is better to fail in the marketplace than during a Stage-Gate process!

When I look back at my involvement in successful projects that led to product innovation, it was more about the attitude of people involved—and the relationships they built along the way—than the method or tools they used.

Projects are people, yet most methods seem to overlook or ignore this governing principal. The best methods and tools will not get you far without the best people and relationships they foster. Managing a project then becomes about managing people, and making sure that you foster an environment that nurtures the best in people, affecting their attitudes through intrinsic motivators.

It’s not easy to create work environments where motivation comes from intrinsic goals. Most methods and tools are only appropriate for extrinsic motivation. Checking the box or passing through the Gate become “carrots” that validate your work, or the “sticks” that kill your project.

This linear thinking may do well for the end stages of a project, where more information is available, but seems awkward for the fuzzy front end of projects, where innovation is typically born.

Maybe a single method like Stage-Gate is not appropriate for the entire cycle of a project. Could some hybridization of methods and tools work in concert, depending on where you are in the cycle of a project? This may allow project members to feel those important intrinsic motivators instead of the queasy feeling of Stage Fright.