Here at Core77, we get our fair share of business books, in part because to design anything on an industrial level, you need to have business in mind. Perhaps you need to get financing to invest in your first injection molding press plates, to the tune of $250k, and it might be nice to have a little hand holding, someone to tell you the press is good for 500k cycles and at your margin, making $3.00/part on an 8% loan gets you a solid NPV if you can sell 50k widgets a year. And yet, if you stroll into the business aisle of a typical bookstore, you see the face of Jack Welsh telling you Elephants can Dance, and providing his experiences in making an agile multi-billion dollar company, so you might just be entitled to wondering how big the market is for billionaires looking for insight into how to improve their NASDAQ-listed stock, because it certainly doesn't help you. Likewise with the success of Malcolm Gladwell's particular brand of chapter by chapter insight using the case study method by way of aphoristic lessons about obscure ketchup companies.
Given the continual flow of newly minted industrial designers hoping to make a go at their own business with the tools to make products, rather than companies, we've certainly kept our eyes open for new books promising to teach designers how to become business people rather than craftsmen. The latest manifestation of such is The Monocle Guide to Good Business (Gestalten 2014), which is about as far afield as one can go from Malcolm Gladwell while retaining the structure of printed paper laced between two canvas covers. Rather than focus on tycoons and boardrooms, their case studies (beautifully laid out photo spreads with accompanying text) focus principally on small businesses ranging from goat farms to more predictably design-centric shops like type foundries and high street tailors. Each page of the guide has been carefully aligned with the grid and thoughtfully designed, but we confess that at the end of it, we found ourselves far more knowledgeable with how to make an already successful business prettier than understanding how to make successful company in the first place.
In terms of structure, Tyler Brûl&eactue;'s introduction says all of the right things, entreating readers to focus on the long term viability of their business rather than a quick IPO exit à la Silicon Valley. We move on to a few case studies of very diverse business successes, all of which nobly held on to their initial conceptions rather than compromising. From there the book follows a chronological structure and the chapter headings form a coherent narrative: (1) Get Started, (2) Next Steps, (3) Need to Know, all the way to (6) Build an Office, and beyond.
Those chapters seem to get progressively longer rather than shorter, as though the typical reader would be more concerned with international expansion than getting started, and that choice seems odd from an educational perspective, if not an aesthetic one. Each of the chapters does contain a number of insights and witticisms, all presented with Monocle's very discerning eye. In a short segment on business cards, for example, they say, "There was a grim moment a few years ago when people tried tricky things with phones to bounce on contact details," and any author who values the tangible and the typographic enough to brand electronic business cards as "grim" certainly gets points in from us. Likewise, for the most graphic or desgin-centric elements of a business, Monocle really shines. The segment on branding, showing the variety of Mon, or Japanese logos, showcases the advantages of harmonious logo design and color palate with aplomb.
There's also much opportunity for absorbing lessons from a variety of business leaders at the top of their field, and a welcome focus on learning through apprenticeship or mentoring. That said, the voice is often so high as to seem unattainable. While we commend them on keeping an international viewpoint, the approach occasionally felt aloof from reality. Sure, it makes sense to profile international cities where business thrives, but to speak as though most business owners have either the financial or social capital to choose between London or Madrid for a home office is completely unrealistic, though it does make for some pretty spreads.
When, later, we reach a six-page editorial shoot of beautiful models in trim business attire, the reader knows for sure that they're not in a typical business book. Instead, it feels more like an issue of American Express's Departures, or the Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition, designed for those already successful in business to figure out how to spend their newly earned ducats. By the time we reached the third editorial spread, 10+ pages of impeccably photographed office supply porn, we'd become a touch disheartened.
To be fair, the Monocle Guide to Good Business is pretty much 100% accurate, and contains smatterings of profound insight for the persistent reader, but it seems to have positioned itself out of the advice market with aspirationally high goals rather than tangible benchmarks. Aesthetically and ethically, its advice undoubtably constitutes a guide to "good" business. If you follow its insights, the business you create will be full of warm ideals, cutting-edge design, and apparently, very attractive employees and owners, but we're not convinced that your business will be any closer to reality until you engage in the non-picturesque dirty work of actually building a company. In the rather crowded business book world, the Guide has positioned itself rather uniquely. We're not sure there will be that many more aspirational business office design porn manifestos, but we confess this one looks pretty good while doing just that.