Jill Graves is currently Head of Global Design at Yara International, and is a founding member of Volta Design. Follow her on LinkedIn to see what she’s been working on.
Hi, I’m Jill Graves. I’m a director of Experience Design. I also do a lot of work in the social innovation area. These days I’m doing a quite bit of consulting as well as working with an incubator site.
I’ve worked with some big industries in the rural south, my first big project used the byproducts of a recycling facility to address a lot of local needs that were part of a major outreach program. From that build, two people, who eventually became my partners, suggested that we join forces and create a new firm, which we named “Volta”. All three of us were fresh out of graduate school and we were used to working on a dime. In fact, the DOE was really impressed with some of the work we were doing because we were doing it with so little funding, so very little.
I was actually taking a couple of business classes that helped us figure out what kind of business structure would make the most sense for us legally and we ended up doing an LLC which worked really well for our first company. The reality is that, businesswise, in those early months, we were actually flying by the seat of our pants. Later, I started working with a business consultant and she vehemently recommended that we work out a proper business plan. Not that my partners pushed back on this idea, but I think they were a little surprised by it. However they understood the need to have everything clearly stated. A good friend of ours was a partner with another good friend of ours. One day their company folded and, even though they were really great friends and respected one another, things got nasty at the end. We all agreed that the best choice was to have everything explicitly laid out.
“The reality is that, businesswise, in those early months, we were actually flying by the seat of our pants. Later, I started working with a business consultant and she vehemently recommended that we work out a proper business plan.”
I think that one of the challenges for anyone working in this field is that of educating your client, sometimes even educating your teams, regarding that new technology and new ways of doing things. This can be difficult since large agencies or studios often have their own very strict system in place that you need to work within. This usually requires unique demands for strategy and you might have to be further up the chain in order to get things scoped out properly. I really most enjoy working with groups who have a philosophy in line with my own, who really want to create meaningful products in order to end up with something meaningful and who do it in a way that respects the user.
Getting a client engaged and on the same page as I am often times relies on doing some really good research. In every project I’ve ever worked on, there was always something to be learned. Of course there were numerous failures, but just understanding all the ins and outs, like taxes, project management, the kind of insurance we needed, and all the choices we had to make regarding when, how and where to focus our resources, from the smallest things to the biggest things was so important. There were times when I know that I could have been a little stronger as far as managing some of the teams I was working with. If there are problems in a group, you can usually see them coming and you need to figure out a way to deal with those problems.