Technology experience designer Vanessa Julia Carpenter’s Top 5 pieces of advice for turning chaos into opportunity

ARYZE spoke with artist and technology experience designer Vanessa Julia Carpenter about starting her new company, Kintsugi Design, and her advice on how to successfully build and grow a startup during this uncertain period.

Photo: Hedda Rysstad

Vanessa Julia Carpenter works right at the intersection of art and technology. She has a PhD in Designing for Meaningfulness in Future Smart Products and has worked in industry for fifteen years. She has also created interactive art pieces that have been installed and admired worldwide, and works at both illutron and GeekPhysical to build interactive art that catalyzes growth and divergent thinking. She serves on multiple advisory boards and design juries, and through her new Women in Hardware network, she is making space for collaboration and support between women in the industry. In 2020, Carpenter started her own design and tech studio, which she called Kintsugi Design: 

Kintsugi is the traditional Japanese craft of repairing broken ceramics with precious metals whereby the resulting product is more beautiful than the original: the imperfection makes it perfect. In this way, Kintsugi Design is a design and technology studio specializing in strategy and future proofing – we’re repairing the cracks, and making more robust and beautiful futures.  

Photo: Hedda Rysstad

Kintsugi Design is a consulting service, working with clients to think through what technologies they will need to position themselves as leaders within their industry. Kintsugi also helps companies to explore, design, build and test prototypes of the technological devices they need. Finally, they conduct design research and hold events to educate others: 

We explore and develop potential futures for companies aiming to thrive in technological futures by researching and designing experiences and prototyping future technologies today, evaluating them with real users in real contexts. 

Carpenter believes that Kintsugi’s ability to offer unique services and solutions comes from the diverse backgrounds, perspectives and experiences of its employees and larger network: 

What sets us apart are our backgrounds which span industry, academia, art, and maker/hacker spaces – we are essentially industry-neutral yet have extensive experience in a variety of industries such as maritime, pharmaceutical, logistics, wearables and fashion, electronics, real estate and more. We draw on a rich and diverse background of knowledge when we collaborate with companies. By drawing knowledge from a variety of domains, we get deeper and more relevant insights into future possibilities. We don’t just look at what’s happening in industry with a company’s competitors, we look far and wide, and can draw conclusions that many others cannot. 

Although Carpenter has always considered starting a design studio, she did not leave her job as a consultant with FORCE Technology with the intention of starting Kintsugi Design. Instead, she left for an exciting position with a prominent Silicon Valley company.  When the company broke their agreement at the last minute, she used this unfortunate turn of events as an opportunity to re-evaluate her goals. Thus, Kintsugi Design was started:

I’m nothing if not adaptable, and I have been considering starting a design studio for many years, so I took this chaos and turned it around, asking what opportunities were present, and how I could create a great future moving forward, and Kintsugi Design was born.

Building a startup in the time of coronavirus does, of course, pose a challenge – but Carpenter feels this challenge has the potential to highlight the true value of her company. She is feeling grateful to live in a country where financial support is available if it becomes necessary, which allows her to move forward with the company’s development. Says Carpenter: 

This “disruption” is an opportunity for growth, and it relates back to what I experienced just before starting this company, taking the chaos and turning it into opportunity. This is our future – a future where people collaborate, where we drop our concepts of ‘what was’ and embrace ‘what is’ and ‘what can be’ – and this is precisely where my company is situated, in helping people understand, adapt to, and even thrive in ‘what is’ while designing for ‘what can be’. 

Photo: Hedda Rysstad

Carpenter’s top 5 pieces of advice for entrepreneurs on turning chaos into opportunity:

  1. Ask for help but be specific and respectful of people’s time: “I ask my finance friend for financial advice. I ask my thoughtful, soulful friend for advice on if this is the right move, I ask my clever and fierce network of business women who I should speak with – and they help connect me.” Those who ask specific questions and set a time frame are more likely to get fruitful responses.
  2. Ask a revisor: Make sure to find a solid, competent revisor to work with before starting your company – solid accounting is central to success.
  3. Ask yourself why: Carpenter feels that meaning is central to building a worthwhile business: “ask yourself why you want this company, what are your values, your purpose in life, does this match that? For me, it has to, otherwise I don’t want to spend my most valuable resource – my time – on it.” 
  4. Get organized: Carpenter recommends the Productivity Planner and the Strategic Coach time planning system. “It has Focus Days, Buffer Days and Free Days where you Focus (do the thing only you can do), Buffer (Communications and planning) and Free (time for reflection, research, etc). I’m not religious about it, but it definitely helps.” 
  5. Network: “I keep in touch with everyone. I check in on people. I reach out to people. I am not afraid to write to someone and say ‘hey, if you have time, can you please tell me about xyz or direct me to where I might find out more info’ – again, be respectful of people’s time.” 

Today, Kintsugi Design’s core team is composed of three people, which Carpenter hopes to expand in the coming years. The company has a much larger network of members, who meet four times yearly to share ideas and support each other. She hopes to activate and grow that network to include people from increasingly diverse disciplines and locations around the world, since she believes that groundbreaking ideas happen at the intersection of different disciplines and perspectives. Ultimately, this network is a major part of Carpenter’s vision for the company: 

My plan is that Kintsugi Design expands to become a home to many designers, developers, artists, creatives, makers and more, and that through these collaborations we help companies to develop solutions they never imagined, solutions which have a positive impact on their company and the world. 

As a diversity-driven, female-run technology and design startup, with a growing community built to harness and build upon existing wisdom, Kintsugi Design has the potential to provide some much-needed fresh perspective into the tech industry.  To learn more, connect with Vanessa Julia Carpenter on LinkedIn, see her portfolio or visit Kintsugi Design’s website. For more profiles of entrepreneurs and technology innovators, please visit ARYZE’s blog

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