Martha Cotton on the growth and influence that design has on business

“My clients have started to really look towards the way me and my design colleagues look at the world and solve problems."

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With a background in theater and anthropology, design consultant Martha Cotton was right at home on the Design Indaba stage. Her talk probed the audience to think more about the relationship between design and business.

“I feel like we are at a really interesting and crucial moment as a global design community. Because we are at a crossroads, our choice is for people to lean in and cross the path together; or to find it all pretty scary, worry and lean back,” says Cotton.

Cotton, who is a consultant for Fjord North America, also works as a professor at Northwestern University where she teaches design research. 

She says of her business clients, "my clients ... have started to really look towards the way me and my design colleagues look at the world and solve problems and say we would like to learn to be more like you.”

She gave the Design Indaba audience the challenge of creating a prototype for a concept of their choice. The crowd enjoyed the interactiveness, some coming through with brilliant models and business ideas.

For Cotton, the importance of the exercise was to show the difference in thinking, as many people chose to do the design first, where others thought up a business plan before anything else.

But in the end she showed off the collaborative process between those two fields, mimicking the exact interchange happening between industries right now.

“What you have done is demonstrated the mindsets of a designer, you collaborated, you worked as teams,” she explains.

Adding: “ When you have a collaborative mindset, you actively crave the input and inspiration of those around you and you realize the inputs of you as an individual are less important of the greater whole.”

Watch the latest Design Indaba talks:

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Edel Rodriguez on childhood, nationalism and a nation on fire

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