Celebrating Make it in Design’s fourth birthday, co-founders Rachael Taylor and Beth Kempton share their story of where and how it all began…  ~ By Lisa Moncrieff, Sales & Marketing Manager at Make it in Design


Let me set the scene…

It’s five years ago in 2010. Beth Kempton is living in Leeds with her boyfriend, Paul. Beth has recently left the corporate world to set up her business, Do What You Love, which is going from strength to strength helping people all over the world to make positive changes in their lives. Beth is winning awards for her entrepreneurial talent and her online business is attracting the attention of key influencers, companies and media. Behind the scenes she is also working on a host of other exciting passion projects, including a first-of-its-kind creative and enterprise retreat scheduled for May 2011.

Meanwhile Rachael Taylor’s surface pattern design career is soaring. Enquiries, interviews and licensing deals are coming in left, right and centre. She’s proudly becoming a household name and is licensing designs to popular well-known brands around the world. Whilst building her own studio in Leeds, she’s busily preparing for two major shows, marketing her brand and forever living up to her name as the happiest person in the country on Twitter!

RT and BK logos

Fast forward to present day and you’ll find two very remarkable ladies, now both married with children, living in opposite ends of the country, managing multiple businesses as well as their own special collaboration, Make it in Design.

The first ever course from Make it in Design—Module 1 of The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design—kicked off on November 14, 2011. Since then over 5,000 creatives from 62 countries have graduated from Make it in Design e-courses, the online design magazine MOYO, co-founded by Rachael and Beth, has been viewed over 2.5 million times and there’s a dedicated team of five full-time staff working hard to make the magic happen.

Rachael and Beth’s journey has been fuelled by big dreams, passion, bravery, hard work, synchronicity and seized opportunities. Today, on Make it in Design’s fourth birthday, they share how it all began and what Make it in Design means to them…

Where and how did you two meet?

Beth: “I first came across Rachael when I bought an original screen print of hers at the Bowery, a café gallery in Leeds. I loved her work and wanted to know a bit more about the person behind them.

“After a little bit of research I saw how Rachael had bravely followed her creative dream by setting up her own label in 2008 and how happy and positive she was. It was a great fit with the Do What You Love ethos and I contacted her for an interview.” (You can read it here, the interview came out in December 2010)

Beth's first Rachael Taylor pieceThe original Rachael Taylor piece of art that Beth bought at The Bowrey

Rachael: “After I’d done the interview, Beth invited me to speak at the Do What You Love creativity and enterprise retreat she was hosting in Yorkshire the following year. We arranged to meet up to talk about it as we both lived in Leeds at the time. Although I didn’t have much experience of speaking in public at that point, I’ve always loved meeting new people and I knew that opportunities like this would raise my profile and stretch me as a designer. I jumped at the chance to be involved.”

Beth: “The creativity and enterprise retreat was a great success. Ahead of her talk Rachael pinned some of her early designs up on the wall alongside her physical products, to help illustrate the design process and show people how you go from sketch to shop floor. Everyone was fascinated to hear about the process. She also showed a small selection from her range of beautifully designed greetings cards, cushions, t-towels and other homeware pieces, which everyone loved. Everyone left feeling inspired, eager to create and wanting more information about becoming a surface pattern designer themselves. Somewhere a light bulb came on for me.”

Rachael: “Yes, it was so great. I remember it like it was yesterday! It was at the retreat we met you Lisa.”

(Who knew after attending the Do What You Love retreat, where I met Rachael and Beth for the first time, that three and a half years later I’d be Sales & Marketing Manager at Make it in Design!)

RT&BETHS-MUM_DWYL-RETREATRachael also joined in the delicate wax and wire sculpture class with Priscilla Jones at the retreat

What inspired you to start Make it in Design and how did the name come about?

Beth: “I’ve always had a secret desire to one day have my own line of stationery. I’d been considering doing a surface pattern design course myself and had even gone along to an open day at Leeds University to learn more about it and explore my options.

“But my options seemed quite limited. To do the degree course I would need to be in one place to attend classes, and would be required to work to a fixed schedule. With a business to run and a lot of travel on my plate, this wasn’t ideal. The course was also very expensive, as are all degree courses these days, and I wasn’t sure about making such a huge investment. I looked around for other alternatives and drew a blank. I parked the idea for a while, until I heard Rachael talking at the retreat and suddenly it made perfect sense. To create the exact course I wanted online, combining design and business, in a flexible way, with a much friendlier price tag than the cost of a degree. And so the idea for The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design was born.

“It was June 2011, about two or three weeks after the retreat, that I contacted Rachael to see if she wanted to do something together. I knew how to set-up, manage and market e-courses, Rachael had the surface pattern design know-how, and we complemented each other perfectly. From my own experience I knew there was a big gap in the market for something like this, which had also been validated by the responses of those in the audience at Rachael’s talk at the retreat.”

Rachael: “I don’t think I even knew what an e-course was at the time and I’d certainly never written one before. I remember sitting with Beth at her kitchen table brainstorming the curricula for Modules 1-3, and planning to launch our first course just a few months later in the November of that year.

“I reflected on my own experience of all the things I’d learned through the years, from my early creative days, time at university and out in the real world. As Beth was new to the industry, she asked a lot of great questions—just the kind of things the students would want to know. You often don’t realise just how much you know and have picked up with experience. Before long there was so much content we both knew it was something that couldn’t be learnt in just a few weeks. That’s how all the different modules came about.”

Beth: “With regards to the name, the e-course was always going to be The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design, it just seemed perfect for what the course covered—both the design side and the business side.”

Rachael: “Beth came up with the name, and I loved it, so that was it from the start. Make It In Design actually came a year or so later, when we decided to incorporate other elements of design into our resources.

“The more you can do as a designer the stronger and more confident you become. We knew that we wanted to support designers at all stages of their career, from those who were new to the industry to those who were already enjoying flourishing careers. We were keen to offer practical tips and advice to help them overcome any issues and raise their profile. And we also wanted to share their experiences and successes, and take all the lessons learned to inspire and motivate others on their journey to success.”

What was the first thing you did when you decided to collaborate and how did the first year go?

Beth: “The first thing we did was agree why we wanted to the course, then we developed our ideal customer avatar so we knew exactly who we wanted to support with our courses, and then created the curricula that would give them those results.

From then on it was a crazy journey of writing more material for each of the courses and networking with other relevant design industry professionals to balance the course material out. We were keen to share as much information, practical how-to guides and way forwards in the industry – things that have worked for others too.

“In the first year we ran Module 1 starting on November 14, 2011, and then Module 2 in February the following year and Module 3 in the April. The test really was in the first round of courses, if people weren’t securing jobs and felt ready to take on the world we knew we hadn’t done our job properly.”

Rachael: “We went on a work trip together to the Indigo and Premiére Vision trade shows in Paris in that’s where we met Stylesight (now WGSN).

“I remember walking out of that show and Beth saying to me “Let’s invest in Stylesight to give our students access to the best trend information in the world.’” And so we did! It’s now an invaluable part of our Module 3 and The Ultimate Portfolio Builder courses, as awareness of trends in this industry is so important – even if you don’t design to them being aware of them certainly is.”

Beth: “It was on the way back from this show that we had the idea for MOYO magazine, born out of a desire to raise general awareness of and interest in the world of surface pattern design. In August of 2012 our first issue was launched. Suddenly we were editors and publishers of an international design magazine.”

Can you name-drop some of your students?

Beth: “We’ve been so lucky from the start. Within a couple of hours of the first course going on sale we had 30 people sign up. By the end of the week we had more than 100. We knew then that we were offering something new and unique to the market, and that the demand was there. The feedback we’ve had ever since from the thousands of people who have passed through our virtual classroom doors has been incredible.”

Rachael:I remember nearly all of our students. Some of the names that stand out, including a number from the very first course we ran, are; Wendy Kendall, Mel Smith, Faye Brown, Katy Clements, Bonnie Christine, Deborah Valesquez, Susan Driscoll, Elizabeth Olwen and Mary Tanana.

We’ve had so many amazing students over the years and seen many unique styles. You know, in this industry, there really is room for everyone. That’s what I love about it.”

What’s the key to your partnership?

Beth: “We massively trust each other which is hugely important. Equally we both play different roles in the collaboration and we trust each others’ judgment based on our skills. We are always looking for the next opportunity, regularly update our courses so they are always fresh, and don’t stop learning. And we have had an official contract from day one. That’s really important.”

Rachael: “We also respect that we each also run other businesses too, and that time spent learning about other subjects, technology and ways to do things play a strong part in our future success.”

What have been your defining moments?

Rachael: “Seeing Wendy Kendall win the Wallpaper Design of the Year award, which was presented by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, was a huge highlight for me.

Beth: “And I remember walking into Paper Tiger in Edinburgh and seeing cards on the shelf designed by Elizabeth Olwen. I immediately recognised the name and thought: ‘Wow! This is where the artwork from our students is going’. It was an incredible feeling.

I think for me, I am incredibly grateful that four years on we are still going strong, and continue to see outstanding still results from our graduates. Every student success story is a reminder of why we do it.”

Of all the feedback you’ve received what’s stood out for you the most?

Rachael: “I feel so lucky that we’ve enjoyed such wonderful feedback over the years. I remember in the early days someone fed back that there were too many exclamation marks in the course material and so we frantically went through every post in every course deleting them all!”

Beth: “Getting feedback is so important and we ask for this every time we run a course to make sure we’re delivering the right material, in the right way. We read every single comment and often make changes as a result of what we hear. We feel honoured and grateful to have had so fantastic feedback. I can count on one hand the complaints we’ve received. To have that few when we have worked with over 5,000 students is pretty remarkable. We really do listen and we really do care.

“One of the major things that helped the business grow further was feedback from students coming out of Module 3 saying they wanted more. So out of that demand The Ultimate Portfolio Builder was born. We’ve really put our heart and soul into it and attracted new teachers and partners to help deliver exclusive and incredibly valuable content. It’s still relatively early days for the course but early indications show that people are loving it!”

Rachael: “Our courses are constantly evolving as a result of the feedback we get and also as I am a working designer, when I learn new tips or techniques we update the course. We never stand still, as we want our courses to be the very best available, and always current.”

What have been the key things you’ve learnt along the way?

Rachael: “Ideas! I have so many it’s like I’m cheating on my husband with them! I get so excited by everything and so I’ve had to learn how to prioritise and realise that I don’t need to do everything at once, right now.

“I also think:

  • Push myself but be realistic
  • Better myself and be happy
  • I am just a normal person, like you. I can do anything I set my mind to if it inspires me.”

Beth:Celebrating and being thankful for all of the successes however big or small along the way is really important. And the power of community. The generosity and support in our private class groups never ceases to amaze me.

“Also, early on we realized that Rachael offers a particular doodle, fun and quirky style which wouldn’t be for everyone. So we tapped into Rachael’s design network to bring in a host of talented contributors to offer a balance. This was a valuable step to take and really added to the course.”

Rachael:As the business grew, we knew we couldn’t keep doing it all ourselves. Opening up the doors to new team members was pretty daunting but if you’re at capacity you have to accept that you need help.

“I first met Kelly when I was delivering a seminar at Leeds University. She came up to me at the end and asked a few questions. Kelly had distinctive and beautiful red hair and stood out from the rest.

“When Kelly finished university later that year, she emailed me to see if she could work with me in anyway. She’d received 1st class honours and when she emailed me she introduced herself as the red headed woman – I remembered her instantly. Kelly was the first one to join the team where she helped with the growing number of email enquiries and issue 3 of MOYO. She’s been designing with us ever since and she’s super talented.

“I met Vic (who’s now our Education and Resources Officer) several years ago when I was freelancing at Tigerprint. Vic was a Creative Technology Assistant Manager which involved looking after the website, blog and design competitions. I used to sit opposite her and she was so lovely.

“Vic used to support and promote our Make it in Design initiatives and she actually photographed some of my products in the early days. It’s great having her on the team now.”

What’s your biggest challenge?

Rachael: “Numbers! And I’m allergic to Microsoft Excel!”

Beth: “Staying current in a world that changes so fast. That’s why we invest many thousands of dollars in WGSN for our students, and are always looking into new ways to deliver content to bring our students the very best.” 

What has the business enabled you to do that you couldn’t do before?

Rachael: “At times I have been pushed further towards my limit and have faced fear head on. I’m constantly telling students to be fearless and just go for it – and I need to take my own advice too. I think it’s really important for me to let our students know just how much I learn from them too; it’s not just a one-way street. I’m constantly learning and adapting as a designer and picking up new techniques and design tips.”

Beth: “It’s really helped me to understand what creative women want which has helped my other business, Do What You Love, hugely. It’s helped me to be able to reach out to untapped talent, bring people together as a community and help move them forward when they feel stuck.

“Also, for me personally, Rachael has helped me to bring colour into my own life. Seriously, I used to wear black all the time, and now I hardly ever do. You’re much more likely to see me in lime green or coral!”

You both run other successful businesses in addition to Make it in Design. Many people wonder how you do it… how do you?

Rachael: “Surround yourself with positive people. Talk with your friends. Enjoy the little moments as well as the big successes and make sure that you’re always happy with everything you’re doing.

“Before having a baby it was really easy. I was super organised, focused and spontaneous. Now I have Blayke it can get really stressful. I often feel like I’m spinning too many plates and that I’m all over the place.

“I’ve learnt how to be more business savvy and strategic from Beth and I love this quote which I use at every opportunity: ‘You can do anything but not everything’.”

Beth: “Follow your instincts, trust your gut and go with the things that really matter.”