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Industrial Designer, Startup Founder & Mentor Krister Gustafsson

Krister’s Mentor profile is here

My background

I’m an industrial designer and my startup creates educational interactive playgrounds for kids. It’s a new media format I pioneered back in 2007 while working in an awesome team at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, starting with the Bupa sponsored Magic Garden (see photos). The design is a learning space that frees kids and teachers to engage the curriculum in a way that feels most natural to them, which makes them both more effective together. This is the type of space where you don’t always see the technology, but it intelligently adapts to your natural way of learning. My goal is to see these installed in kindergartens and schools, and we’ve started to get traction. My stakeholders call the design groundbreaking.

design mentorship

The Picnic Table. Photo by Marinco Kojdanovski. Reproduced courtesy of hte Powerhouse Museum Sydney.

The Department of Interactives that I worked in was the only of its kind in Australia’s museums. During my seven years there, I worked under a great manager who allowed me the freedom to form and mentor unique multidisciplinary teams of creatives. I structured the teams to increase our chances of innovating and pioneering experiences that were of real value to our audiences. The Bupa Magic Garden even became a ‘platform’ for prototyping new educational models, one of which Germany’s Bremen University and University of NSW recognised as an innovation and a milestone in the industry of Children’s Philosophy. That’s thanks to the team’s unique talents and passion. During my time there I produced over 17 industry-recognised emerging technologies and over 200 interactive exhibitions, exhibits and experiences. There was no limit on where you could take your career.

Changing Direction

But as times grew too lean to cope with and long before the department was nonsensically forced to close in 2014, I began crafting my new career path in consultation with Mary Kurek Professional Networking Agency. The company helps “pro’s in high profile, innovative and big impact businesses attain extraordinary business opportunities.” Together we identified my strengths and ambitions, to form an itinerary for a five month-long, trend-forecasting and networking trip with the purpose of forming a startup based on the information and contacts I had collected and that uniquely expressed my personality. I interviewed over 100 industry leaders across 12 countries in Europe and 12 states in the North Americas. Many remain today my strongest supporters, partners, mentors and advisors. It was the kind of trip that keeps on giving value years afterwards, so I’m grateful I planned and resourced it well.

Consulting to designers

I now consult and share in what I have learned, knowing how creatives such as designers, think and start businesses differently to Business, Finance and Marketing disciplines. As a designer you just can’t launch a business by being predominantly focused on fast growth of profit (which is the age-old purpose of a startup), and getting that principle wrong torments a lot of creatives from as far afield as chefs to designers. Starting up on my own was extremely difficult, and my confidence hit an all time low with each failure. It was humbling and I grew to be grateful and focused. What changed me was that I had decided I had suffered enough and felt ready to continue the above trip, but in a much more spiritual way. When I say “spiritual” I mean doing precisely what makes me feel whole as a designer. I have always been a designer, and pioneering is much more than a tool-set for me, it’s my core value, my way of being.

Directly after, what made the biggest difference was maintaining a visual diary, something I hadn’t done for years. In it I began to record my core values, strengths, goals, routines, designs and most importantly, lessons to myself = ‘self mentoring.’ I shaved weeks off my startup each time I used it.

Lessons along the way. A few of my top picks:

  1. Analyse carefully what causes a global financial crises and use the next one to build capital to reinvest in your next career break. This takes time researching and saving.
  2. Model your projects on those you want to work with and sell to. Ask what drives and frustrates them in life and let the rest of the conversation flow naturally. Their answers are also your mentoring and keep giving value years afterwards as you return to reflect on your influential conversations. By “modelling” I mean personalising or customising the project to them.
  3. The driver and frustration will reveal the interviewed customer’s unobtainable dream. Find the dream that’s universal to a group of people, and you’ll have tapped into an endless desire to buy your solution, because nothing you create will ever satisfy their positive desire to get closer to realising their great dream. I now include this section in my business plans, with good, soulful intentions.
  4. The designers’ way of “leading by example” is to exhibit first before asking for feedback. This inspires confidence and invites both partners, constructive criticism and optimism in abundance. Ideas alone are vague and vulnerable to being shot down.
  5. A good way to start a business is not to see it as one. Begin instead showing off a few of your experiments or hobby projects to positive people who don’t know you or your work well. See what captures the greatest response, then run with it as a tiny project and see if you can get paying customers. Those small steps feel wonderful.
  6. If I had known that by starting a business I would earn roughly as much as when I graduated from university, I might as well have started a business straight after graduating, including making sure that I had a part time job working under a great manager from whom I could gain mastery. Top companies will take you on as an intern at first when they see your passion and ‘big picture’ mindset expressed through the adventurous designs you have prototyped. Always focus on obtaining the best jobs.
  7. Attend hackathons relentlessly for a year. That’s your MBA packaged into a startup-weekend. It’s life changing and gives you the greatest surge in confidence.
  8. Routines free you to focus and buy you time.
design startup mentor

Bupa Magic Garden, photo by Nyein Aung at

Emerging technologies present huge opportunities to entrepreneurs

We work in a time where educational institutions take too long to respond to shrinking opportunities in the arts, and redundancies in the sector increase as markets become more volatile. But it’s also a time where the proliferation of emerging technologies open new opportunities for creatives to break free of employment and redundancies to start up on their own. Better still, they can create their own technology that allows them to express their ideas, and find unique ways of making money from their ideas.

My Mentoring

I mentor designers who create physical spaces and online experiences to work together to form startups. Imagine creating smart rooms and urban spaces, and objects that are interactive and connect with users via the Internet.

I help them develop emerging technologies using Design Thinking and guide them in breaking free of employment to start up on their own. We do it in small manageable steps. My process involves helping designers conceive ideas trough bouncing their ideas off a network of professionals and getting to know their customers. I then guide them in using Design Thinking and lean startup principles to prove their idea, keep a steady flow and make the launch as easy as possible.

Characteristics of potential mentees:

  1. Mastery in a field or a hobby


  1. A unique idea about solving a problem or a keen awareness of trends that speak their values and that they know well


  1. Great creativity and passion. I look for passion first because with that, anything is possible long term


  1. It helps if they have gone into business before but it’s not necessary.


All my projects have been vastly different to each other, so I have worked with a very broad spectrum of creative professionals even though the designer’s process is my strength. Currently I’m mentoring a food writer and a UX designer on their separate international networking trips and a local luxury sports-car hire startup.

mentorship in design

Photo by Sylvie Gustafsson


Krister’s mentor profile on Kindred can be found here:




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