After six incredible years at Mint Digital, it’s time for me to move on.
I joined Mint in early 2008, when I was twenty. In the years since, I was fortunate enough to work on almost every aspect of the business, from writing front-end code in my first few months, to producing interaction design, working as a strategist, and taking on the role of Creative Director for the last three and a bit years.
It’s almost impossible to do the time I spent at Mint justice. I had the opportunity to see more than one transformation of our business and play a part in growing Mint into the company it is today.
These are a few highlights.
Establishing a design culture
In the last three years, we grew the design team at Mint from two to around seven people. Thanks to the company structure, the team and I had free reign to invent — and reinvent — our processes across the board, including how we hire, our approach to production, and most of the time, what work we take on. It hasn’t always been easy, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
The designers at Mint now work embedded within multidisciplinary teams, applying the product design principles we established across the company. These teams are making decisions based on user research, proposition testing, validation, prototyping and measuring.
The effect of this on the output is visible. From our own products to client work, everything Mint makes strives for design excellence, while staying firmly rooted in product thinking. Mint has become a company respected for its approach to design and product development. That is the best result I could have asked for.
The real heroes here are of course the team. This would not have been possible without the work of Tom H, Kejia, André, Tom W, Matias, Ben, Alice, Steve, Nikki, Kim, Matt, and Tom J. Over the years, I had the privilege of calling you my teammates. Thank you to each and every one of you. I’ve learnt so much from you and my gratitude is endless.
A new kind of graduate scheme
I have always been dissatisfied with how internships in design companies seem to work. They tend to undervalue new graduates and treat them as cheap labour, to the point where sometimes they’re not even paid for their work. In 2011, I proposed we find a new way.
A few months later, Foundry was born. It differed from other graduate schemes by recognising that we had just as much to learn from the graduates coming in as they had from us. We set briefs on areas we didn’t know a whole lot about and created an environment where our interns were treated as peers. Most importantly, we gave them a proper living wage and a sense of ownership over their creations.
Three years on and we have graduated eleven individuals through the programme. The Foundry alumni have gone on to do things which continue to delight and inspire me. I will always regard giving these talented young people a start to their career as one of our most rewarding accomplishments.
Campaigns to products
Mint got its start in the world of media, creating interactive sites that accompanied television shows, and building large platforms as marketing campaigns.
Though the work could be fun, and we were certainly cutting our teeth, I found myself growing disillusioned with some of the work we were producing. We began a concerted effort to shift our client focus from marketing to products.
Since then, we have been refining how we approach product development. Recently, we’ve been offering ‘hack weeks as a service’ to rapidly prototype digital products for the likes of Tesco, vInspired, and Universal. With some clients, we’re selling cycles of multidisciplinary team sprints instead of billing days. It’s a refreshing way to work.
In parallel, our efforts to build our own products were gaining traction. Kejia had prototyped StickyGram and we were trying to figure out how to turn it into a product. A few months later, Foundry’s Olly would be all over the news, but remain unfunded on Kickstarter. Foldable.Me, however, would smash through its Kickstarter target. Ben would invent Projecteo and take us into the realm of consumer electronics.
The last two years have been a crash course on every bit of product development, across funding, logistics, hardware design, electronics, manufacturing, and fulfilment, not to mention creating complementary digital products. In hindsight, I can see we created a perfect feedback loop between products for clients and ourselves, what we learned on each side making us sharper in both.
The success of this approach was crystallised by the acquisition of StickyGram in June this year. This gave us the resources and the confidence to embark on a new transition, dedicating the majority of the company production resource to new product development.
You can probably count the number of companies that have made such a transition on one hand. I count myself fortunate to have had a part in it.
I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved at Mint. Cameron, Andy, Noam, and Tim have set up a company where employees can become whatever they want to be. Along with design, the fantastic development, marketing, and finance teams at Mint thrive in that environment. This influence will stay with me throughout my career.
I leave content in the knowledge that we’ve set up Mint in the best way possible to continue making great things. My contribution to the cause feels complete and I can’t wait to see where the team take it from here.
The new start
So, what’s next for me?
For the last few months, I have been excited about three nascent propositions for new ventures which pose fascinating design and business challenges.
In the new year, I’ll be concentrating my time on validating these propositions. My intention is to learn as much as I can through testing and feedback, with the ultimate aim of making something new. More on that in the new year.
I’m also interested to hear what sort of problems others are trying to solve. If you think I might be of help, or you are interested to find out more about my ideas, drop me a line. I’d love to grab a coffee.
Happy holidays, and here is to what 2014 brings.
Thanks to @bash, @tomharman, @usherette, and @kzhu for helping me write this.