“The design industry is now being taken far more seriously” – John Cleere, Red Lemonade: CEO Q&A

Business, Interviews, Ireland, Technology | Wed 9 May | Author – Business & Finance
John Cleere, Red Lemonade, design
John Cleere, Director, Red Lemonade

In the next CEO Q&A, John Cleere, Director of Red Lemonade, talks design thinking and transforming the business scene in Kilkenny.


Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My main priorities are to build relationships with companies and organisations to show them how design can add real quantifiable value to their product or service. The goal is to deliver an offering that allows them to innovate faster and more efficiently, using design as a strategy.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as Director?

Today’s requirement for product development is speed to market, a process of incremental steps and testing rather than a long, arduous build and launch and crossing fingers for good market feedback. Clients now expect us to create design solutions with more immediate feedback. This challenge pushes us towards finding processes for repeatable innovation cycles to give clients the competitive edge for today’s rapid, disruptive, digital environment. Not only that but we have to find a delivery process that will work across the spectrum of our client requirements, be they digital or physical.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

Being selective and working on projects that excite us, continuously learning and staff flexibility. Getting out of the office and seeing how other people work so we can find solutions to problems in the day-to-day operations always helps.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Perception of design in industry is the challenge. The design industry has long been seen, from a business perspective, as a service of making things look good rather than what design really is, that being problem-solving. It is encouraging when clients brief us with the latter perception, you’re almost guaranteed at that early point that success is down the line.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

One notable trend is the design industry is now being taken far more seriously. Over the last couple of years many design agencies have been acquired by large corporations such as IBM, McKinsey, Accenture and PwC. Design has long been a missing part of their service delivery, and quite a lucrative one, too.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

The design sector tends to live in its own echo chamber: designers talking to designers about design. More time spent interacting with other industries and understanding their problems and pain points will create far better designers.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

The obvious one is that not many design graduates have an understanding of coding. This will become a prerequisite for many employers in the design industry. You don’t have to be a code expert but an understanding and ability to read code is a great start. I also noticed programmers now starting to embrace design as part of their skill set so watch out, designers, they are coming after your lunch and some of them are exceptionally good.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

I can’t say the strategy changed from our end but for our clients it did and we adapted, fast. Our client base moved from print and branding projects to design strategy and digital work. There was

upskilling involved and it was an exciting transition. As the economic crisis deepened, we were growing, you don’t hear enough stories like that but they are out there. Design skills are definitely an advantage during a recession.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Brexit has had and will have little to no impact as we haven’t exported our services to the UK for many years. Perhaps in time, or if we start targeting the UK market again, there will be a knock-on effect.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

When I have a list of solid, tangible, measurable goals that I can act upon and hopefully achieve this then gives me a formula for success. What drives me is the various outcomes such as personal growth, making a social difference, ability to travel and of course generating income to keep the game alive.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

The best advice I would give to a designer is to start thinking like a business, not a designer. Understanding the client project deliverables and practices will win you more projects. Don’t put all your energy into designing your own website and brand – focus on the client or you will be doomed to fail. Read business books, not design books, most of which are just chewing gum for the eyes.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

It’s been an exciting year with many highlights, taking on the role of South East Regional Advisor for TechIreland, co-organising the first Google TechStars Startup Weekend in Kilkenny and continuing my work as founder of Tech Thursday Kilkenny (#TechThursdayKK) which has a monthly meet-up of up to 200 people. The goal is to encourage a change in Kilkenny business culture from being a service-centric city to embracing new tech industries. Finally we have been running successful Design Sprints as a new service with clients, a process of starting with a problem and producing a testable prototype with user feedback within one week.

Q. What’s next for your company?

Design as a strategy is something we believe will grow rapidly over the next few years as products and services move to a digital platform. The Design Sprint process we offer is identifying and solving a lot of the pain point for clients, so we will be developing that further.

Q. What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2018?

We are a small team which makes us very agile, holding none of the large agency or organisation trappings of hierarchies and the expensive overheads. This puts us in a prime position for growth in the coming years. We have also been gaining interest from outside of Ireland for our services from digital scale-ups and our approach allows us to engage easily and act fast.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

By next year the vision is for our design brand to be seen as a problem-solving product, be that here in the studio or on site with the client wherever they may be. The business attracting companies who want to utilise our design skills to ship products fast, learn from the market and iterate from the finding for real innovation and success.

The best advice I would give to a designer is to start thinking like a business, not a designer. Understanding the client project deliverables and practices will win you more projects.

John Cleere is Director of Red Lemonade, a digital product design company based in Kilkenny city. He is also South East Regional Advisor for TechIreland and Founder of Tech Thursday Kilkenny.