Work Less, Do More

Industrial designer Andrea Panico built a business on the principle that simple strategies can lead to a big impact.

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The Vision

Andrea Panico considers herself “an architect of small things.” She believes little things can have a big impact in our homes, on our bodies and in our lives. So she started a company called Pico to share that vision, starting with a jewelry line named, “Little Architecture.” ”It’s intended to suggest a sense of movement and place, to subtly direct the eye as architecture can,” she said.


“The idea that being in a space, that the confines of walls can create experience, really amazes me,” she said. “A classic example is The Guggenheim Museum in New York, where the rotunda funnels you through the art collection in a completely different way, and really enhances the experience.”


Courtesy of Andrea Panico.

Her Inspiration

When she sketches her jewelry designs, she borrows concepts from architecture to create a personal keepsake to capture, “that feeling you get when you’re in a space that moves you.” Each piece has what she calls an “ah ha” moment for those who appreciate design.


“I think visually and graphically about how to translate my inspiration,” Panico said. “But then, as an industrial designer, I incorporate how each piece hangs on your ear or your neck, and what the moving parts are doing.”

Courtesy of Andrea Panico.

Taking a Risk

Panico, a former designer for West Elm, believed strongly enough in her vision that she quit her day job to focus solely on her jewelry line. “The biggest challenge was running Pico on the side as I maintained my other jobs,” she said. “Finally I took a leap of faith that all of the hard work and planning would pay off.”


She felt over the years she had accumulated the support network to go out on her own. “My family is behind me, my friends are behind me, and they’re all pulling for me,” she said. “I feel a part of the bigger design community.”


(Left: Tweak Twist Bracelet; Interlocking Circles Bracelet/Little Architecture)


Now Panico’s pieces are sold in museums and gift shops across the country, including the historic National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Milwaukee Art Museum.


Last year, one of her bracelets from her Little Architecture collection was featured in a trade publication called InStore Magazine. The Director of Licensing from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation saw it, and invited her to visit Taliesin West in Scottsdale. “I was awarded the license to design and sell Frank Lloyd Wright jewelry,” she said. She says the deal to work alongside the foundation to adapt his drawings and plans into jewelry has doubled her business as well as increased visibility for her brand.


(Left: Robie Wide Cuff/Frank Lloyd Wright)

Evan Schwartz Photography

Her Advice

With Pico expanding, Panico, the mother of a young child, had to rethink where to expend her energy as well as her time. “I never set out for a business model where I made jewelry in my basement day and night,” she said. “I would design and prototype, but somebody else would make it for me. And I think being older made me comfortable not apologizing for where I was in life. The whole reason for me having my own business was to call my own shots, and make my life be about what I wanted it to be about.”


Here are her tips on how to simplify your business—while increasing productivity.


(Left: Ando Ring/Little Architecture)

Dedicate a Space to Your Business

While renting office space may seem more costly, it can make you more efficient by eliminating visual distractions and helping you focus while cranking out specific tasks. “My entire home would be taken over with jewelry and shipping boxes,” Panico said. “At the end of each day, I’d have to clean everything up again.”


Recently she relocated Pico to a light-filled office space. “It feels clean, like a palate cleanser—a blank slate where I can come in and create,” she said.


(Left: Box Bangle/Little Architecture)

Set Up Work Rooms

Divide up your space into work rooms to facilitate your work flow. Single-tasking without distractions reduces your stress level and increases your productivity. “I set up two primary work zones, which I separated with a frosted glass wall,” Pancio said. “I have a dedicated space for shipping and packing, aside from where I am working, so I can keep my creative area sacred and still have somebody in the shipping area helping with those day-to-day tasks.”


She also added a refrigerator and a break area. “I try to have all the amenities I would want if I were simply an employee working here,” Panico said. “I make it feel like I’m going to grow into into the space, which I am. It captures the spirit of a start-up. I may be the only one here right now, but there’s no where to go but up.”


(Left: Forms Necklace/Little Architecture)

Technology is Your Friend

Use technology to your advantage, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Figure out what you need to minimize costs and make things as easy as possible for you. “Investigate new technologies like Google Voice so you’re not checking your phone every six seconds,” she said.


But do only one thing at a time so you’re not switching between applications, which can quickly lead to a time suck. “I turn off desktop notifications for my email so I’m not constantly distracted,” Panico said.


(Left: Reading Space Necklace/Little Architecture)

Evan Schwartz Photography

Make an Org Chart But Pay for Good People

Making an organizational chart creates a vision for your company. It will clearly show you at what moment you are ready to bring in help, as well as where your skills aren’t as strong. “It frees me up to do what I am good at—design,” Panico said. “And then I pay consultants for the rest—a bookkeeper, a photographer, and a business strategy consultant—until I can afford to bring them on full-time.”


(Left: Shear Earrings/Little Architecture)

Evan Schwartz Photography

Invest in Yourself

Schedule time for your core strengths each day. “I always look at Pico not as a jewelry business but as a design business,” Panico said. “Eventually I would like to move into other product categories.”


For Pico to grow, Panico knows she must practice her core strength. “Designing is what I love to do the most, but it gets pushed to the bottom of my to-do list,” she said. Now she blocks off time on her calendar to sketch and think. “It allows my brain to shut off and rest from all the chaos of running a business, and be free for a bit.”


(Left: Oak Park Necklace/Frank Lloyd Wright)

Evan Schwartz Photography

Don’t Try to Do Everything Yourself

Carefully consider what you should outsource—and what you should do yourself. “I’ve learned that my time is worth money,” Panico said. So while she paid to have her office painted, she shows up in person for major trade shows, like the New York Gift Show. “I think it’s important at this stage of the game for my customers to associate the designer with the product,” she said.


Her calculation as to its long-term benefit paid off. At her first gift show, she met her first client, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “That made me realize what my customer base could be—museum stores, which helped me focus my marketing efforts,” Panico said. Her jewelry is now in over 70 museum stores across the United States.


(Left: Oak Park Bracelet clasp/Frank Lloyd Wright)

Evan Schwartz Photography

Remind Yourself and Your Team of Core Values/Objectives Regularly

When opportunities come your way, ask if they fit with your core values and objectives. Don’t be afraid to say no if they don’t. “Recently I was asked to do a design project with an amazing partner,” Panico said. “But I was only given three weeks to design, have the product made, and get it on the market.” Although she feared she’d never get an opportunity like it again, she ultimately declined. “Design is my currency. If the design wasn’t up to my own standards because of the time constraints, then the project would have been pointless,” she said. “It was a hard decision to make, but I feel like it was the right one.”


(Left: Coonley Necklace/Frank Lloyd Wright)


Jennifer Jeanne Patterson is a freelance writer and author of 52 Fights. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three children. Find her blog at Unplanned Cooking


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First Published July 11, 2011

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