• 07.27.09

Advice for Design Sluts, and Burning Questions Answered

This week, Stuart Karten will be answering your questions about design and innovation.

Dear Stuart,


I’ve been burned by my designer in a past relationship and I’m very guarded as a result, but I’m not ready to give up on innovation. I’ve met a new designer and I’m ready to start fresh, but I’m afraid my emotional baggage will get in the way.

Ready to design again,
Scarred and Scared

Dear Scarred and Scared,

Commitment is scary! But an intimate, sharing relationship with a designer is the key to lifelong Innovation. Let me clear up a few things for you. Innovation is no mystery. It is simply creativity applied in a business context. Now here’s the scary part: you need to get back out there and talk to designers in a meaningful way! Yes, I know they are an odd bunch who pride themselves on going against the corporate grain, but they know creativity and, if they are good, they know how it can impact your company’s bottom line.

How to find them, connect with the good ones and build a lasting relationship is what you need to focus on. The willingness to spend time with your partner, to reflect on yourself and your company, and to invest in your relationship is crucial. A healthy partnership with a designer will bring success, but it takes work like any relationship. If you really want to get back in the game, check your baggage at the door.



design slut

In an effort to win over this client, I gave up a project for free. I knew it was wrong, but was seduced by their great product line and the promise of more work. I know this goes against all proper protocol for a financially healthy relationship. Did I ruin my reputation? What should I do?

Design Slut

Dear D.S.,

It’s all about patterns. Once you give it up, the client will expect it that way all the time. Being viewed as the “Designer With Benefits” will not lead to the long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship necessary for producing lasting Innovation. I suggest you be upfront: admit to your evil ways and take the walk of shame back to a more meaningful relationship. Your short-term lapse in judgment also has implications on the design profession as a whole. We certainly don’t want the world of clients thinking they can strut their stuff and have us all succumb so easily.



Dear Stuart,


We have started working with a design firm and I have a burning question: Why do all designers wear black?

Docker Dan

Dear Docker Dan,

There is some deeply rooted psychological history here. We are a young profession just becoming secure in our role in the world. Our black wardrobe embodies the confusion of belonging and individuality–belonging in a boardroom while still standing out against Corporate America. Black allows us to stand out in a safe way without a strong color conviction that might convey loyalty to some passing trend. It’s a neutral canvas that allows our creative personalities to shine. Most importantly, it makes shopping easy and morning dress decisions super simple!


Got a burning question for Stuart? Leave it in the comments and we’ll be sure to get it answered.

Illustration by Greg Clarke.


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For 25 years, Stuart Karten Design (SKD) has been a strategic partner to companies seeking to differentiate their products through creativity and design. Connecting creativity with commerce, SKD designs products that serve as brand ambassadors for its clients and lead to greater market share and increased profit. SKD’s team includes 25 includes designers, researchers and mechanical engineers who can guide a product from design conceptualization through final production. SKD is especially renowned for its medical products and its ear-centric devices, which have included communication headsets for Jabra and Plantronics, the Zōn hearing aid for Starkey Laboratories and noise-cancelling ear buds for Ultimate Ears.

SKD has been the recipient of numerous awards, including IDEA, Red Dot, iF, Good Design and the I.D. Annual Design Review. Conceptual “Epidermits Interactive Pet” was a part of Museum of Modern Art’s recent Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition. In 2008, Fast Company magazine named SKD among America’s top five “Design Factories” in its annual Masters of Design issue. Located near the beach in Marina del Rey, SKD is tapped into the cutting edge culture that defines Los Angeles with our fingers on the pulse of the trends that will affect the nation.

About the author

Stuart Karten is the Founder and President of Los Angeles-based product innovation consultancy [url=]Karten Design[/url]. Since 1984, he has partnered with medical device, digital health, and consumer product manufacturers to build their businesses through design.