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Portfolio Analysis: Igniting a long-term spirit in a short-term world (X). DBR last phases TEST and PRESENT.

Hi, dear beloved readers. Here we go again.  Today with the latest publication about the DBR process. Our aim is to finish with this framework today. We will proceed to cover steps 6 and 7: TEST and PRESENT.

“Love at First Sight I”. A handmade work of art by Eleonora Escalante. Made with love on Fabriano Aquarello paper. Size: 22 inches x 15 inches.

In our last post, we offered a portrayal of how to apply the BUILD concept, in the first iteration of a sub-prototype for pricing watercolorist artworks, considering 15 variables. We run our model and “build” 4 different scenarios of pricing, under different circumstances of artists for a floral 5 inches x 7 inches artwork. We also stretched the belief that this is just our first iteration. So the BUILD step is subject to many reviews from art practitioners, dealers, academics, teachers, collectors, and it will require several adjustments.

“When building prototypes or components of it (sub-prototypes, as it is our case), the design-researchers have to build in a framework that can be used. The implementation can be of lower or higher fidelity depending on the stage of the project, and the question that the designer-researcher wants to test” (1). Design research must be implemented to achieve a goal (in our case, it is not the pricing of watercolors but to solve the issue of how a full-time artist can make a decent middle-class bottom line living all over the world). Every iteration provides a refined prototype that can answer questions about whether the goal has been achieved or not.

But for a minute, let´s consider that this sub-prototype of pricing is rolled out to be tested.

Phase number 6. TEST

According to Easterday, Rees Lewis, and Gerber (1); “iterative user testing involves testing successive in series (many times in parallel) the resulting versions of the prototype that has been built at increasing levels of fidelity”. Early testing of the prototype focuses on the elements of relevance, on the weights assigned to each variable, and on checking the consistency of the variables that we have defined. Once the first iterations rounds are tested; we finally can offer much better last prototypes (and the sub-prototypes that feed the higher one) to the most expert reviews and walkthroughs.

For example, in our watercolors case, the 15 variables that we BUILT were:

  1. Subject
  2. Size
  3. Production Time
  4. Experience of the Artist
  5. Brand Name
  6. Demand Trend
  7. Intermediary
  8. Shipping Expenses
  9. Scarcity Factor
  10. Technical Difficulty
  11. Material Inputs Quality
  12. Watercolor mediums used to paint
  13. Expected duration of the Ouvre
  14. Framing
  15. Wow Factor

Once we start to TEST our pricing sub-prototype version 1.0, we distinguish in fact that the context of the country in which we are pricing is extremely relevant.  For example, this sub-prototype was run for the United States, for the case in which we ship from California to New Hampshire. We have utilized USPS ground mail (which is the cheaper) and takes longer to arrive at the destination house. Some oeuvres are so delicate, that it may happen that the clients want them “urgently” and they will need to be shipped by private delivery such a DHL or FedEx, or UPS. So, we probably will need to add a new variable: “Delivery time”.

Now, let`s assume that Erling Kagge is also reviewing Eleonora Escalante Strategy pricing sub-prototype. Kagge is a Norwegian lawyer, author, and art collector; and given his vast experience in collecting contemporary art, and the authorship of his book “A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art”(2);  he adds a new insight. He explains to us that in Nordic Countries new galleries are emerging, and there are several online collectors who have been positioned in those markets recently. In consequence, we may have to consider a variable called “collector prestige” which is the turning point for many artists when it comes to accelerating their sales (beyond the commission charged).

Another variable that was missing in our sub-prototype for pricing watercolors is the “country context” in which the oeuvre is made. It is not the same to sell a watercolor in Bolivia, Spain, The Netherlands, Russia, or China, or in Chile or in El Salvador. Additionally, every country has a stronger or weaker regulatory system when it comes to applying the law for “copyrights“. So we also have to measure this third additional variable “country“.

One more variable is the “payment options(3). When it comes to art, particularly if it is high priced, every customer has a preference to pay, and it is hard to sell the oeuvre in one installment. Some artists do not like to handle cash but checks. Others are amused with PayPal and the versatility of other digital payments alternatives. Late but not least, people are requesting several “payment installments” when paying for wall art.

From the latter observations, and after careful analysis, we decide to add the following 6 variables. So instead of 15 factors, we have now 21 determinants of price :

  • Country of the Artist
  • Copyright
  • Delivery time
  • Collector Prestige
  • Payment Options: Cash, Check, Credit/Debit Cards, Digital mobile payments, electronic transfers.
  • Payment Installments: 1 payment, 4 consecutive payments, 6 consecutive payments, 12 consecutive payments.

These changes are made because we have tested the sub-prototype at an earlier stage, considering several elements from the art community. Testing is crucial to find all these new corners that we did not see in the first place. Then we polish the framework, we test it again in several iterations, which are also linked to the former phases (focus, understand, define, conceive, build). Finally, after a while of going back and forth, we finally feel sure that at least we are in good shape.

Testing provides the design researcher with real-life feedback about the success variables or key success factors of our work, and in the process, we confirm or dismiss the validity of the theoretical propositions. Testing tells the design-researchers whether the prototype (and sub prototypes) is fine-tuned and has reached the robust ground in practical and theoretical goals.

In addition, the whole idea of testing is to have joy in the process. Design research or DBR doesn´t have to be boring or edged with a negative judgment. Because we hold the researcher cap, as it happens with kids at the Montessori pedagogy, every single new material or discovery, must trigger off that “awe” sense of breakthrough in us. Moreover, this new model for watercolorists is designed to help them to sell directly from their own studio to consumers (D2C). Eleonora Escalante Strategy is deeply committed to helping watercolorists to make the deal directly, in consequence, artists must elevate their rigorous quality, standards and comply with all the transparence of their own art creation.  Even though we are still putting the art collector in the spotlight of our value chain, we wish very much that full-time artists can engage in their own sales distribution, given our strategy of diversification (we are betting for omnichannel distribution sources sales).

Physical Art Galleries have been substituted by on-line collector platforms?. What are the main reasons collectors purchase art online? According to Artsy Online Art Collector Report 2019 (4), it turns out that online collectors (intermediaries or art dealers) play the role to serve customers in their quest to buy art. Collectors of online art are not so different from their motivations when buying art offline (physically). “Surveyed collectors mentioned aesthetics, the desire to live with art; a passion for artists and their stories; and affordability among their key motivations and considerations when buying art online”.

The online collector prestige validates the piece of art, that is why many clients or interior designers do not consider going directly to the artist, but to collectors. However, if the whole painting watercolor economic sector complies rigorously with the regulation of being and belonging to a league of Watercolor Societies Signature and a Professional Watercolor Artist signature, it is difficult for end-customers to receive less than exquisite art if they decide to go directly to the artist (using D2C model).

Images of your art do not represent the true quality of it. In addition, it is clever to keep both formats of galleries in parallel: online and physical. The physical gallery or museum is not only to exhibit, but it is educational for children and the new generations. It is a fresh breath to go out of home and visit art galleries. It is an opportunity to see with the eyes of the beholder, what you see is what you get, and “feel the WOW factor” when getting in love with the artwork, more than to examine on your wall as it is hanging there. On-line galleries or collector websites demerit many times watercolor art. The nature of the screen doesn´t allow the client to get the “wow factor”. As an example, last year, in one local call for artists, I sent pictures of 3 artworks that were not accepted by the juries. I had the chance to deliver them in physical format later, and they realized the mistake, accepting the three of them. Pictures of your art do not represent the true quality of it. On the other hand, numerous artists retouch their images using photoshop, so when a client receives the oeuvre it looks different on paper, compared to digitally. The savvy is the consumer when it comes to observing true art in real life, the better artworks will buy.

Reasons to buy art by consumers. Data Source: Artsy.

“Iterations in testing are the principle of modern human-centered design”. We are not considering profits or shareholder value here. We are trying to help watercolor artists to make a decent living. We are striving to solve the question: How to make an individual basic income of US$64,800/year (the median average salary for a middle-class citizen household in the USA) as a full-time artist.

In the testing phase, Eleonora Escalante Strategy has the obligation to provide evidence for the effectiveness of the design research performed. This happens in the TEST phase. We certainly consider and are confident enough that the print-on-demand industry needs certain boundaries when it comes to wall art. The print-on-demand business models in which art is sold as “specialized giclee printing techniques using anti-fade inks on matte paper stock” are killing 4000 years of original art history. We understood this, on our own, by painting. If I wouldn`t have engaged in painting watercolors during the last 5 years, I wouldn’t t have discovered this. Moreover, the evidence of my work comes from talking with the masters, the emergent, the youngsters, and the students who wish to dedicate time to paint, but are unable to do it, because they can´t make a living as full-time artists. The majority of hand-made artists sacrifice their full-time careers and secure their living expenses with jobs as graphic designers, teachers, resellers of Chinese products, cooks, whatever you can imagine. I have seen amazing artists who are begging for loans from relatives to buy their pigments and brushes.

Are hand-made artists any better now with the print-on-demand companies or not? All of them will reply, there is no way for us to make a living of US$68,400/year by pouring our devoted artwork into print-on-demand marketplaces. Of course, artists all over the world will state that they get some income to afford quotidian bills, but not to make a decent living with it. The uniqueness of the original wall-art (which is the heart of our business) is gone in the print-on-demand marketplaces. I certainly believe it is a mistake to let print-on-demand corporations destroy our essence. Regardless of if we get some pennies with it.

Phase number 7. PRESENT

This is the last phase. Communicating to all the stakeholders involved in finding a solution is also an art. We shall provide presentations, research papers, good documents that prove all our DBR trajectories. By doing this DBR iteration exercise, we will arrive at new theories, beyond the solution.  When designing our prototype we not only discovered the solution for the watercolor artist, but we also have developed a new theory: Wall art must not be reproduced in print on demand entities, and this piece of our research is valuable for the whole industry. Regardless of the context.

Original Art producers are still on time to take a retrenchment corporate strategy and get out of the print-on-demand marketplaces. Once the validation of all our data and observations will come over time, then we will show the world that we were right about protecting the original hand-painted wall-art. Probably in order to find a fair solution, the art industry will have to autoregulate the industry of the print-on-demand marketplaces, in such a way that must be only dedicated for merchandising objects like cups, apparel, caps, underwear, thermos, yoga mats, phone cases, but not for home décor. Everything related to wall art or stationery with a limited number of prints will be directly in the hands of the artists, and no photocopy-print store on earth will be able to print anything of wall-art on paper or other materials unless it is previously authorized by the same artist who will need to sign the print with his hands, with his professional artist signature. Each artist will have a maximum amount of printed units (let’s say 20 or 30, according to the scarcity factor). Original Art producers are still on time to take a retrenchment corporate strategy from the print-on-demand sector, not just to save themselves, but to rescue the next cohort of fellows of original art to come.

This is it for today. As of our next post, we will continue uploading music at the end of our publications. Thank you for reading to me.

Sources of Bibliography used today:

(1) Easterday, M; Lewis, D.R.; Gerber, E. (2014). Design-based research process: Problems, Phases, and Applications. ICLS 2014 Proceedings. Volume 1. Pages 317-324




Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, the majority of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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