Startups tips: storytelling and design by Maria Matloub, speaker at BLAST 2017

by | Apr 5, 2017

In this interview, we introduce Maria Matloub, service designer that will talk on our main stage about “How can design make a difference”, while her workshop, hosted in our Startup Academy, will be focused on “visual storytelling”. Maria has over 10 years of experience across the service, product and interior design fields in variety of sectors as well as lecturing at university level, so we are sure that her speech, workshop and advice could be interesting for you. Don’t miss the chance and meet her at BLAST 2017: apply now for our Startup Program!

Would you tell us something more about you and your story?

To keep things short and fun, I embrace two mindsets in the way I am, think and do. Currently, I define myself as a designer working in a Big 4 with an entrepreneurial mindset and experience.

After graduation I started my career as a freelance interior and product designer, then convinced myself to apply for jobs where I lasted less than 4 months. I then got back to freelancing before stopping all my design activities for clients and jumped on the bandwagon of startups, working on three ventures while teaching at the infamous Lebanese American University in Beirut.

As a young passionate designer in search of purpose, I thought I knew it all, but I learned the hard way that things do not always happen the way you want them to, it was all learning by doing. I must say that my interactions with my clients and students helped me see things from another perspective as well. Now I am more realistic but kept my drive and motivation as I learned that in order to reach your goal, it is not just about how hard you work, but how well and with who you work.

What kind of services you provide?

Currently, I am a Service Designer at Deloitte Digital. We work on digital transformation projects using a service design approach to design great and optimized customer experiences which add value to businesses. Being part of this new wave of designers in consultancies which is expanding in terms of numbers and nature is absolutely awesome as I am fascinated by the combination of mindsets. It’s awesome to have the full spectrum of jeans and ties in one space who both speak different languages. When I am not in the office, I write articles for about emerging startup ecosystems and design. I’m also involved in community building activities such as Service Design MENA that I started back in 2015, aiming at raising interest and awareness about the value of service design across the middle east and north Africa. I think there is tremendous opportunity in the MENA region where people definitely have the drive. There are some governments and corporations who are quite active and sense the potential of this whole startup bubble, be it for business or social innovation. Service design can definitely play a major role in this transformation.

How did your passion for the startups ecosystem start?

I’ve always been someone who enjoys trying out different things before choosing a focus, but during my high school years I wanted to become a politician to make the world a better place. However, a couple of weeks before my first semester at university I realized that it takes more than being a politician to achieve that. So I went on and enrolled in design studies, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Design opens up a whole new world of possibilities, with diverse challenges, all different, and the possibility to be you and express yourself your own way. In a way, it led me step by step to go back to my initial desire to do good for society and the world, and in 2012 I started working on a healthcare service (now I call it research) and began following startup ecosystems, reading, learning, attending events across Europe and the middle east.

 Let’s talk about your speech at BLAST 2017: you’ll talk on our main stage about “How can desig make a difference”. Can you anticipate something about this topic?

Sure. I want to take the audience through my experience as a designer, as an entrepreneur and as a ‘corporate’, and why designers today are wanted in so many places. I’d also like to start a conversation on how service design can blend mindsets and grow this vibrant world we live in which is full of opportunities.

You’ll also raise an important issue during your workshop hosted in the Startup Academy: the visual storytelling. What is your experience, in that sense? How is important this element in the business growth?

Well, the way you communicate your story determines your path. It’s crucial to know your audience to adapt your way of presenting. But before getting there, and in order not to fall into the typical pitches structures, understanding the journey of the service or product you are providing can help you not only uncover new assets and opportunities and the process behind, but also come up with new ways of telling it.

There are different ways to do it, but the aim of the 40 min workshop is to visualize in order to find new entry points for your pitch to capture your audience. Emotion is important, and one way of getting there is to be able to visualize it because you naturally get immersed in your own storytelling, which is a fundamental element of a successful design presentation. It’s also something that you have to work on continuously, and I believe it is a key element for startups as well, often with limited pitching resources.

So, “storytelling” and “design”: have you some general advice for the startuppers and young entrepreneurs?

Do not fall in the ‘that’s how it should be’ trap: there is not only one way, but many. You must be able to take what is best for you and adapt it to your needs, and as long as you are able to justify your process and capture your audience, then you’re onto something.

Make sure you are honest with yourself in the way you tell your product/service story, as it will open up a world of possibilities. As a designer and design teacher (although I don’t like the word ‘teaching’, it’s actually more like ‘guiding’ as you cannot ‘teach’ design) I used to tell my students that there is nothing right or wrong, and this is the beauty of design: there is good design and bad design, but not wrong nor right design.

Regarding this two topics, are there common mistakes made by entrepreneurs and startuppers that you have noticed during your professional path?

Definitely! Two things come to my mind. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas, an idea is just an idea, and believe me, no one will copy it! One idea can be taken to so many different levels and lead to a plethora of concepts and results.

I’d also add that before spending huge amounts of time developing a product for the market, test it first, iterate it, showcase it, to get feedback. This is what we call prototyping in design. This is how I fell into this trap by not being patient. Listening to opinions which everyone has, constructive criticism as well as observing reactions will help you build your product.

You might encounter obstacles and opposition regarding all what you are trying to do even by the closest people around you, but don’t lose your drive and enthusiasm, just keep going. Because, at the end of the day, no matter what happens, you will learn something that you might never learn elsewhere, and it will be awesome.

Oh, and always do your homework: Research, research, research!

What about your future goals?

To remain a part of the transition and mixture of mindsets, with design as the engine. To contribute to the development of ecosystems, building bridges inside out while continuously working in digital transformation, by integrating more technology such as AI/VR and Big Data to design meaningful experiences.

What’s the reason why you have accepted to join BLAST?

Italy is a great place for design and designers. So by sharing my experience and aspirations in this emerging ecosystem where major efforts are being done, is a great chance to learn, get exposed to direct feedback and best practices from different industries and other like-minded individuals. It’s certainly exciting times ahead.


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