Design · Designer entrepreneurs

It’s the Golden Age of Design. So Why Aren’t More Designers Starting Companies?


August 15th, 2013

We've been having a lot of discussions surrounding design and entrepreneurship at FounderDating recently. We just hosted a design panel this week about why more designers aren't opting in to entrepreneurship with Jeffrey Kalmikoff (Betable, Threadless), Alexa Andrzejewsji (Foodspotting), Josh Brewer (Twitter, 52weeksofUX, and Jason Putorti (Mint, Causes) where the broad answers ranged from not having enough resources, misconceived notions about what it takes to become an entrepreneur and even a fear of failure. Jessica (our CEO) just wrote an article for WIRED mag that was published today - I'd really love to hear what the community, especially designers, has to say about why more designers aren't founding their own companies.

Alison Lewis CEO/Creative Director

August 15th, 2013

Great write up. As a designer who is an entrepreneur, I feel the intense pressure from VCs and Angels to talk about the traction and numbers; when to me as a designer it's the idea, impact and strategy that matters. All too often I hear my co-founder excited by the things he can solve in design, but this seems to be very unimportant to people who put in money. 

I'm learning how to talk some biz-dev speak; but generally listening to some biz dev guy spout about numbers and how much money they raised in the last company usually leaves me bored to death; I want to hear "this is the impact I made" or "I had ## customers and they were happy because..." or "your amazing, how can I help you." The designer in me is looking for an emotional response to a logical situation. 

The want for financial support or funding is the same but they  (designer and biz dev or engineer) are inherently looking for different queues when talking with each other to understand trust and possible support. 

Great designers (Gucci and Chanel) got their money from benefactors or families who believed in them and what they stood for. Very rarely do I see this in investment and especially not so in Silicon Valley. 

I see the challenge for designers is two fold: 

1) Trust. Find someone that you can trust that can do the biz dev or engineering. Trust is the hard part here as inherently, biz people sound very "slick" to many designers and designers sound very "pie in the skye" to biz dev people. I don't think it is on purpose, it is a nature of values and expectations. I'd like to see some ideas on improving trust in these areas as part of this discussion.  

2) There should be a benefactor type of funders. Gucci and Chanel got their start this way. Some people call this the seed round, but it's different.  A benefactor believes in the vision so much, they are associated with the person in part to raise their own image by being associated with the person/company they support. It's not all about the profits. They want the person to spend time on what they are good and enjoy, if they want some profit margins and updates, they send someone in to help the person instead of expecting the designer to do it themselves. 

3) Investing in Design seems scary. This is especially true in tech areas where the focus on scaling quickly, making money, and then exiting is the norm. Few stay for a long time in an area where you may not see profits for 4-5 years and scaling is slow. It just looks like a higher risk business.  Designers usually have a different value proposition (look I can talk biz!) than a tech or software development company thus raising the barrier to entry for designers before they even set out to speak to investors. 

Ron Shigeta Co-Founder at Biomatica

August 15th, 2013

Trying to put a project together when with a designer right now. He's reasonably senior and successful.  David's point is well taken though that this is a pretty distinct culture from where software or marketing people are and i think you have to be ready on both sides of the divide to do some work to find a reasonable way of making concessions and figuring out differences of opinion.  

So far its been workable - we're prototyping our first demo with an engineer, though this is not really the sort of thing that you can be done with - I'm sure every phase is a new challenge when you are working across cultures. 

Zac Taschdjian UX for IoT, data visualization and emerging experiences

August 15th, 2013

I'm a UX strategist/designer who is just starting my second entrepreneurial venture. The biggest difficulty I've encountered has been implementing (i.e. coding) my designs. I think the harsh reality that a lot of designers face is that if you can't code (or can't convince someone to code for you) you're SOL. Developers can get an MVP to market pretty easily since an MVP, by nature, isn't meant to be perfect. It may be ineffective for other reasons, but at least it will be out there. But as a non-coder, you can't get an MVP into the market if your project doesn't compile. There is is no equivalent to this problem for developers. Sure, a designer can get seed funding based on a prototype and then hire an experienced developer to build it. Just my 2 cents...


August 19th, 2013

As a design founder, I look at other designers and it looks like most if them like designing and founding a company is 90% shit work and 10% fun design work.

It requires that the founder really care about the impact of the work and less about enjoying their daily activities.

And in general designers have pretty fun jobs where they get to
Make pretty things all the time, so making the switch is hard.

David Cornelson Founder at Wizely, Inc.

August 15th, 2013

I'm not a designer but have tried very hard to work with them. The answer I get from nearly all of the better designers is that they were all burned at some point and now are completely jaded about working for anything less full wages.

As to the entrepreneurial aspirations, I can only guess that it's partly about those same feelings.

Alison Lewis CEO/Creative Director

August 19th, 2013

1. Is there an article somewhere that says it is the Golden Age of Design? Can you share? I feel that the golden age of design was with the Bauhaus movement and with Charles and Ray Eames. 2. I found this interesting, maybe it has some insights to why their are less design in entrepreneurs?