Academy MSIDBT Graduates Launch a Human-Centered Design Firm

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September 16, 2020

With companies struggling to stay afloat amidst a pandemic, the focus has shifted from profit to business models that value empathy as much as financial gain. Some of these changes include increasing diverse hiring practices, investment in philanthropy, improving environmental sustainability across supply chains, implementing flexible work from home policies and more. As these shifts continue, marketers too must evolve and bring a multi-dimensional outlook to the table. Enter Mindful Media, a human-centered design firm that’s putting social, ethical and financial impacts of business on an equal playing field. The triple-bottom line approach is one that makes perfect sense to Allison Carmen, Ara Yardemian and Hayden Steele, co-founders of Mindful Media, who believe it sets the company apart and connects them with like-minded clients looking to improve society, not just make a profit.

“We wanted to ensure the work we do is sustainable and has a greater goal of lasting impact,” says Carmen. “Our goal is to work with organizations who focus on people, planet and prosperity.”

Since its launch, Mindful Media has developed creative solutions for companies like Kaiser Permanente, UCLA, AxS and more. For now, the team is keeping their client roster small, focusing on delivering meaningful, one-of-a-kind results.

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“The Mindful Media team democratically decides who we are going to work with [which] allows us to really showcase our creativity by working on projects that we are passionate about,” says Steele.

The idea for Mindful Media was born when Carmen, Yardemian and Steele met as graduate students at USC Iovine and Young Academy (IYA). During their studies in the Master of Science in Integrated Design, Business and Technology, the team used the human-centered design principles and strategies they learned to develop the idea from concept to launch.

“We have taken a risk in launching Mindful Media and so far, so good,” said Carmen. “It’s a strong culture amongst our team thus far and ultimately, having a strong team with a can-do attitude will make any ship sail because we’re all in it for the right reasons.”

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As working professionals, the team brings together expertise across industries. Prior to the entrepreneurial pivot, Hayden worked in marketing and video production in the healthcare industry, while Yardemian worked in eCommerce and digital marketing to support California businesses in the wine and spirits industry.

“The Academy’s greatest gift was the opportunity to work with so many qualified people and bring ideas to life,” says Yardemian. “The program really forced us to think differently and to make things happen amongst our peers. It’s a great feeling coming together with people from different backgrounds to build towards a common goal.”

For Mindful Media, that goal includes delivering tailored and sustainable business solutions that only come after the team deeply understands the needs of their client’s business. It doesn’t hurt that the team also brings unbridled positivity to their work.

“Optimism is what fuels all of us. The hope for a better future is always the goal,” says Steele. “By putting our failures aside, learning from them and helping them shape our future, we are bound to succeed.”

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How did Mindful Media come to be?

The thing that really pulled us together was a shared vision of introducing design thinking into the mainstream. We wanted to offer a new way of looking at problems and help others do the same. Ultimately, Mindful Media was born from our shared passion for creative strategy. There certainly are many marketing and design firms in today’s world, so we thought to ourselves, “How can we use our IYA knowledge of business, design strategy and tech innovation to guide us into a new endeavor?”

What differentiates you from other design companies?

What really sets us apart is the fact that there is no set menu for what we have to offer. When we meet with clients, it’s all about learning how they operate and offering a fresh perspective to explore what we can do together to create a custom course. We are intentional with who we work with by ensuring that our vision and ethics align with our client’s goals.

Which client or project has been the most rewarding and what did you learn from it?

Our most rewarding and unique project so far has been designing and directing a cooking series for a local non-profit organization and creating a whole experience of teaching home economics to impoverished communities in Los Angeles. Before the pandemic, the organization was offering cooking classes and mentorship to people living on the state’s Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system - in an effort to teach how to make healthy and nutritious meals on a budget while making cooking and eating a form of therapeutic relief. After the pandemic hit, they were forced to close their operations and didn’t have a plan to reach their audience remotely. Our team jumped in and offered a few solutions for them and went straight into production. Throughout the project, we filmed and produced over 40 videos and published English and Spanish cookbooks.

What types of clients do you typically work with or attract?

We have worked with a variety of social impact companies - from start-ups to established organizations. Our goal is to work with organizations that focus on people, planet and prosperity.

Which client or project has been the most challenging and what did you learn from it?

The biggest takeaway from working with our clients is that as long as there is a clear vision and intentionality behind their ask, then we can make almost anything happen.

Has COVID affected your business? How have you adapted?

The biggest impact of the pandemic is the realization that companies need to evolve in order to stay competitive. This program taught us how to embrace pivots and to shy away from the status quo. Creativity and critical thinking are often hindered by over-exhaustion. When you work from home/remote, you do tend to put in more hours, and given that we are mindful of our headspace, we ensure that we each have the ability to truly disconnect in order to put our best selves forward week after week.

Additionally, we have launched our InterimC program, where small to mid-sized companies can apply for us to come in and support their evolution from business strategy to marketing to organizational change — all through a human-centered design approach.