More Designers should be Entrepreneurs

Some time ago (July 14, 2009 to be exact) I wrote an article encouraging designers to walk the entrepreneurial path on their own by bringing some of their own creations to the market. My article “Sometimes Designers need to Walk the Path on Their Own” encouraged design entrepreneurship simply because of the learning experience designers can get. Not only that, a designer should have the DNA to be an entrepreneur. It is really only about changing the mindset.

So I was presently surprised to see an interview where Scott Wilson, of Tik Tok Kickstarter fame, explains his thoughts on why Designers should be Entrepreneurs. However I disagree with the99percent when they labeled him as a “new breed of designer/entrepreneurs”. I’m sure you would agree with me that design entrepreneurship is something that many designers have been practicing for quite sometime now.

Anyways here is the quote:

Do you think all designers should be entrepreneurs? Or is that just your particular makeup?
I find it slightly odd that all designers aren’t like that, because you’re just so curious. For me, I have such a hunger to learn, to try new things, and to connect the dots. I love seeing all kinds of things from medical to industrial to whatever, and then going, “Oh that’s interesting, and how is that relevant to this thing over here that’s in a completely different sector or category.”

I think there’s a difference between a designer who just wants to go to his computer and design things in a vacuum or design things to a brief and not maybe be challenged too much, and a designer that can actually see the connections and challenge the brief and push back and create something that’s disruptive to what’s in the market right now.

Steve Jobs at Apple, Mark Parker at Nike – who I was fortunate enough to work with for two years – those guys are big-picture designers. They’re right-brain, they connect the dots. I think it’s really important to train that part of how you see things as a designer.

There are a lot of people out there who have more skill than I do, who are more creative, maybe more open-minded, but one of the things that I do is I see the connections and I see the opportunities and I can visualize them.

So I agree with Scott, designers have the DNA to be entrepreneurs. It is about curiosity, big picture thinking, and the ability to connect the dots. I would also like to add to his list the ability to wear many hats, working with, and empathizing with other people. Check out the full interview at the99percent for other cool anecdotes such as “Do what you think is Right and Apologize Later”. Enjoy!

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Brian Ling

Brian is the Founder and Design Director at Design Sojourn, a Design Led Innovation Consultancy. He is a multi-award winning design leader, and specialises in strategic design and innovation programs that drive successful organisations. Brian’s 20-year career in design, driven through a deep understanding of human behavior, spans over multiple domains such as consumer electronics, government, healthcare, non-profit agencies, hospitality, F&B, retail, online solutions and best in class service experiences.

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7 Comments on "More Designers should be Entrepreneurs"

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Hi everyone, thanks for the good feedback. @Bernadaus and @Raph, both of you are actually correct. Designers have many roles to play today, as well as have a big responsibility in the things that they design. As a consultant there is much he/she can do in educating the client as well as ridding the world of bad design and making life better for everyone. As a Entrepreneur, a designer has a huge opportunity for a great learning experience, able to hone his craft and skills, and (IMHO) most importantly of all push the boundaries of his work and peers; and… Read more »
@Bernadaus You make a great point. However I think though that overall the consultant’s model is waning and is not a viable model long term. I am already seeing a lot of Australian consultancies scaling back their consulting and bringing more entrepreneurial self driven projects to the fore as these entrepreneurial projects produce better revenues. Globally I think it will become more common for designers to operate as entrepreneurs as the barriers in the world of technology start to fall further and become more accessible. As a designer, particularly with technology and processes being expensive or inaccessible, isn’t it our… Read more »
N. Khan

I think designers and creative people are entrepreneurs in spirit to beging with. They don’t want to follow the standard cookie cutter models and that’s what entrepreneurs are. Just make sure you team them up with a good accountant.

Bernardus Romero
@Raph You’re completely right. I just think we can accomplish a broader impact as consultants, because our designs are manufactured and brought to the market(s) by another one’s companies (and technologies). This way we can design a wider range of products and for different kinds of users and markets. In a word: DESIGN, which is the best we do. Entrepreneurship is vital, you’re right. It’s crucial right now in “peripheral countries” (citing Gui Bonsiepe) like mine, Venezuela, for instance. There’s almost no other option, in fact. But technology and processes are really expensive when you’re a little company.
@ Bernardus Romero Actually I think the biggest contribution a design could make to society is in this model as a designer/entrepreneur not as a consultant. A consultant is selling creativity as a service. This means they are actually not able to directly sell their raw creativity and skills or benefit as extensively as they should as their work will always be filtered by the client to a certain extend, some clients being worse then others. The person ultimately benefiting in the long term in the consultant relationship is the client not the designer. The designer is paid a fee… Read more »
Hi Brian, I quite enjoyed reading the Scott Wilson interview as well, there were some fantastic points made and some great insights. However in response to your comments, I think that the99percent hit it on the head by describing him as part of the “new breed of designer/entrepreneurs”. That said I also agree with your stament to a certain extent, that a few designers have practicing this type of design/entrepreneurship for a while. So let me explain. I think that while your statement is partially true (eg: a few designers such as yourself have been practicing as a designer/entrepreneurs for… Read more »
Bernardus Romero

Definitely the best contribution a designer could do to society is through his or her work as a consultant.


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