Interview with Matthew Manos, founder of verynice

P&P interview with Matthew Manos, an award-winning design strategist, social entrepreneur, and educator and the Founder and Managing Director of verynice, a design strategy consultancy that gives half of its work away for free to nonprofit organizations.

-- You are the founder of one the most groundbreaking design strategy consultancies called verynice, what's the philosophy and business model behind it?

verynice is a design strategy consultancy that helps businesses, non-profits, and governments expand their capacity for impact. With client experience spanning 700+ brands including the American Heart Association, Disney, UNICEF, and Google, our expertise is centered around brand experience and creative facilitation. In addition, we publish a variety of design methodologies online that are currently used in over 130 countries.

-- What is design strategy? 

On the surface, design strategy looks a lot like research, workshops, reports, and conversations. At a deeper level, design strategy is the bridge between the needs of a business and the needs of people. Design can be defined as the creation of desirable and functional artifacts that create value for an intended audience. Strategy, on the other hand, is less about generating ideas and more about selecting what we should or shouldn’t do, informed by a goal or vision. As a result, design strategy pairs blue sky thinking with a get-it-done mindset in order to bring things to the right people at the right time. 

-- Can you tell us about the Models of Impact game and how you and your team came up with such an interesting idea?

Models of Impact is a role-playing and ideation game that simulates the process of launching a social enterprise. During the workshop, people from different backgrounds and skill sets come together to invent new concepts for impact-driven businesses or initiatives that could exist in their communities. We first launched Models of Impact as a research initiative. That research resulted in an extensive glossary of terms that serve as a resource and define over 200 business models. Eventually, we decided a glossary wasn’t enough and had this desire to turn it into a game. It’s now been used in 100 countries, and I’ve personally facilitated workshops in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Estonia, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, and Spain. This summer I’ll be taking it to Finland and the Ukraine - couldn’t be more excited!

The roots of the idea actually go back to my thesis work while I was a student pursuing my MFA at the ArtCenter College of Design. In school, I was studying randomization as a tool for business model generation. Today, Models of Impact uses dice to spark randomization and make the experience fun and challenging for everyone involved. 

-- What's the Give All initiative all about?

verynice turned 10 years old in April of 2018. As we were approaching that milestone, I thought deeply about our impact, and ways that we could expand upon it. The problem with pro-bono service (and discounted services) is that it requires human time to execute. This is naturally limiting. So the idea of building a pro-bono robot flashed into my mind, and I got to work in thinking about how I could start a project like that with, as usual, no funding or resources to support it’s launch. 

What I did is work with the team to identify every “trade secret” we have developed over the years - specifically things that we do in our strategy sessions or workshops with clients that didn’t require production work. I then wrote down every step-by-step detail of that and published a series of 9 toolkits. In doing so, we (to a minor extent) are starting to automate ourselves. 

The results have been great so far. We’ve had almost 2,000 people download over 18,000 of our PDF files. With each PDF’s content equal to about 1.5 hours of consulting/training time, that is almost 30,000 hours that we have been able to displace in less than one year. Of course it isn’t perfect yet, but it is a really strong first step in the direction of building a pro-bono robot and I look forward to seeing where it goes next.

-- Unfortunately we are currently living in some turbulent times, is there any specific problem or issue that you think it could be somewhat fixed with the help of the right application of design strategy?

Outside of verynice, much of my career has focused on education. I truly believe that any massive problem in society is tied to two things: education and privilege. If we can apply design strategy to those two issues in order to increase access and find ways to equally distribute capital and knowledge, it would be a good start.

-- As an accomplished designer and strategist that have worked with some of the world's biggest companies and organizations, do you still have a kind of "dream job" or project that you would like to be part of? 

I do not have any dream clients or client projects at this point. I’m very lucky to have accomplished everything that I ever wished for in that space. What is very exciting to me now is working on projects that will have impact that lasts longer than my lifetime. I get very excited about working on projects that help any organization (no matter what the name) think about their long-term vision. In recent years I have had the privilege of being able to work within communities abroad extensively. I’m excited to go to more places and further my understanding of our world! In addition, I am very excited about the work I’m doing at USC as well as what we’ve started with Give All.

-- You are also the Assistant Dean of Academic Strategy and Assistant Professor of Design at the USC Iovine and Young Academy, but you're still part of the millennials. What do you think about this younger generation of students? Do you see any difference with the so-called "elder millennials" like yourself?

“Elder millennial” makes me sound so wise! Because I got started teaching quite young, I’ve almost always shared the same generational distinction as my students. I believe next year will be the first time where many of my students will be a younger generation than I. What I’ve noticed so far in working with this generation is that they are so incredibly intuitive when it comes to design and making. At this point, all of them grew up with social media, the Adobe suite, and more. Many of the stereotypes of millennials and Gen Z speak to the more individualistic mindset or even a bit of an abandonment of large institutional affiliations. I honestly haven’t found this to be true - in fact, our students are really wonderful collaborators and are still very much inspired by the vision of massive companies like Apple and Google, etc. The key difference, perhaps, is the speed of adoption of new technologies and software. I taught myself Photoshop when it was till being sold on floppy disks, and would wait years to update the platform. Now, students are constantly staying up-to-date on software, but also are much more willing to try alternative platforms.

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