#LearningCurve: Master of design’s clients her badge

Design@Bay’s Dipti Varghese
Picture: Fredlin Adriaan

Achievements include blue-chip national, global firms, working with UN, NMB municipality, IDZs and universities

Armed with an education in design from India and Japan, Dipti Varghese set her sights on creating innova- tive communication strategies for multicultural audi- ences. It is this approach that has allowed Design@Bay to cross boundaries both geographically and creatively over the past 17 years.

How was the company born?

Design@Bay was officially registered in 2000, with the Coega Development Corporation and the NMB municipality among our first major clients.

Winning the design competition for the Coega Project and the coat of arms for the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality created the impetus for formalising the business.

I obtained a masters degree in design in Visual Communication from the Industrial Design Centre at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai.

After my masters, I had a once-in-a-life- time opportunity to work in Tokyo with one of the most eminent and innovative design gurus of our time, Sugiura Kohei, where my design thinking was challenged and expanded.

My role as a design educator and promoter at the former UPE (now NMU) further enhanced my design outlook.

Design thinking for effective communications for all spheres of life has embraced and encouraged me to work in the development and upliftment of an inclusive society.

What is your core service?

Strategic branding and communication is at the heart of our business. This includes developing powerful brands through an integrated business development strategy, with design thinking at its core, strong marketing and effective public relations.

What made you go into this industry?

Effective communication is often neglected in a multicultural and multilingual society. My education and broader global experiences in developed and developing multicultural, multilingual societies equipped me to tackle these societal challenges.

I align this outlook with economic development challenges to derive growth solutions.

This approach found favour with our clients and assisted us in establishing a portfolio of prestigious blue-chip national and international clients and projects.

What makes your business unique?

Consciously integrating design thinking with the marketing and communication strategies we develop helps to generate innovative and cost effective solutions for our clients.

We are deeply committed to deriving the right solution, not just any solution, for the challenge.

What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced initially?

Developing a track record of successful projects and clients, as well as forging personal contacts with possible clients in the private and public sector are vital in the early days of building up the business.

Along with this, the financing required is one of the biggest inhibitors, especially in getting the pricey computers and software bundles. Establishing the right design and research team to work with you is also critical.

What kind of advertising do you do?

Mostly referrals. We believe in building strong relationships with our clients, and this has successfully translated into new projects and a good network.

What is your target market?

Private and public-sector businesses. We have also built strategic clients in the sectors of economic development and higher education, both in South Africa and abroad.

What are some of your business highlights? 

Design@Bay has contributed significantly to the development of some well-known national brands, such as the Coega Project. In the first seven years from its inception, the East London Industrial Development Zone, and some of the higher education institutions like Wits and NMU’s international office.

We are also among the select companies working with the United Nations and its subsidiaries.

When an international team sends a project leader to work with you to coordinate with therestoftheglobalteam,you understand the significance of the project and the role your business has to play.

How important is social media and an online presence for your business?

Social and online media are an exciting and far-reaching facet of our new world, so it is important to us and also a vital part of the expertise we offer to our client base.

How did you fund your business initially?

Building brick by brick. We had a humble start from our master bedroom in our flat in Central. Profits generated were always ploughed straight into the business.

What is your biggest lesson learnt so far?

You need to dream big. Business has its ups and downs, but mistakes are part of the learning process. What is important is to lift yourself up, surround yourself with positive influences and never give up.

Who has been your role model in your approach to the business, and why?

I had many role models, but it was undoubtedly sensei Sugiura Kohei who influenced my approach to building the business. I worked with him in Tokyo and consider him to be one of the most influential philosophers, thinkers and design gurus of our times.

The humility with which sensei Sugiura and his compact team churned out the most astonishing, varied and complex communications design works from his office influenced and shaped my thinking of how I would like to shape my consultancy.

How important has mentorship been in your business journey?

I am passionate about growing the next generation of entrepreneurs by sharing my knowledge. I have been actively involved in mentoring for the last ten years, with the Businesswomen’s Association and lately with Shanduka Black Umbrellas. It is heart-warming when you get positive feedback from people you have mentored.

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