Be Your Own Customer and Create Products to Serve Your Community
Malene Barnett, WE NYC Mentor
Malene Barnett - Malene B

How many times have you discovered a product and said to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Or maybe you’ve needed a product that doesn’t exist and said “I wish someone would make a...” Now is the time to take a look at some of those desires. Start listening. Observe the voids in your community and create products to fulfill those needs.

At Malene B., we listened to our peers’ pain points around decorating as well as considering our own decorating desires. As a design studio based in Brooklyn, NY, we realized there was a lack of culturally diverse images within the home furnishings industry. Our company grew out of that realization and focuses on creating patterns that share the stories of our global community.

Here are a few tips to help you look within your community to create products that serve the community’s needs.

Once you start to think about design as a way to solve a problem rather than solely as a way to create beautiful things, the ideas will start to flow.

Malene Barnett

Design based on “I wish I had”

If you are thinking “I wish I had” to yourself, nine times out of ten you are not the only one. We all have pain points and each community’s are different. Think hard about some of the pain points your community may have. For example, as an African-American woman with Caribbean roots, it was hard for me to find home textile designs that reflected my heritage. Solution: my company created “Market” wallpaper inspired by the market scenes in the Caribbean. When people who share my background  or a similar background see the design, they immediately connect to it and feel relieved that someone finally created something to represent their experience. Once you start to think about design as a way to solve a problem rather than solely as a way to create beautiful things, the ideas will start to flow.

List your ideas

Make a list of five to ten ideas. Select your top two or three and start sharing them with others. The feedback will help you determine if your idea is feasible. Make sure to listen carefully to the feedback, which will help you modify your idea to make it even more appealing.

Make a sample

Once you have shared the idea with a few people, create a sketch. The visual will help bring your vision to life. Then, before you invest in production, make a sample. The sample will help people understand your vision. You’ll also receive additional feedback that will help you fine tune the product idea.

Take advantage of the pre-order model

Once you feel good about the product and your target market has been receptive, think about the avenues for distribution. Then, before investing in inventory, take pre-orders to test out the idea. This will give you a better sense of whether the product is right for your market and about demand for the product.

You can repeat these steps as often as needed and apply them to new product ideas. Take your time observing members of your community and figuring out their needs. Often, the product needs are not as complicated as you may think. Enjoy the process and be happy creating!

You can learn more about developing products in my eguide series, Malene B Essentials: A Global Designers Guide to Creating an Inspired & Acclaimed Collection.