Entrepreneurship · Design

Why aren't there more designer entrepreneurs?


December 10th, 2014

It seems like most entrepreneurs are either tech. or non-tech.? Which category do designers fall into? And why don't you see more starting companies?

LanVy Nguyen Founder & Managing Director at Fashion4Freedom

December 12th, 2014

There seems to me a tinge of arrogance and egocentrism in this question.   

The modern design world seems to assume that if the founder/would-be founder of a business idea does not include a nifty app or hipster tech application of some sort, then that person can be deemed as not quite so "entrepreneur" enough.  If the designer isnt working on creating running socks that can measure the amount of testosterone one might leach out as toe sweat; then that designer might be deemed as not so designy enough.   

I agree with Mr.Turner that DESIGN is about finding a solution to a problem; the solution might include tech and it might be better adapted should it also look pretty.  Entrepreneurship is about turning ideas into sales--NOT SELLING THE IDEA TO INVESTORS with a glossy prezi .   There are lots and lots of design entrepreneurs out there; they're missing from this site because they are actually busy designing, making, and selling on places like ETSY, MAKR, and quite a few other sites.  There are billions more entrepreneurs in the 3rd world that turn ideas into profit to feed their families.

The arrogance to assume that there only exist a small group of DESIGNERS whose skills also intersect with ENTREPRENEURSHIP baffles me.  

Jared Zimmerman User Experience Director

December 10th, 2014

I answered this in Quora -- Why are so few startups founded by designers? http://qr.ae/qYkNS


December 10th, 2014

Let me ask a question? Was Steven Jobs a designer? Were Dolce & Gabbana designers?

Design embraces many disciplines and its harder to come up with a winning formulea in design. But if the designer can create the winning 'product' , 'design' , the success is overwhelming!

Daniel Turner Available

December 12th, 2014

Oddly, there's something about the way this comment thread is designed (using the word intentionally) that makes is burdensome to reply when there are many points above to reply to.

Jessica is right on target when she reminds people that "design" is not necessarily aesthetics or "make it pretty" or "focused on product", as someone put it above. Design thinking, UX thinking, are all about solutions -- to correct another comment above. UX design is asking, "What problem does this solve, for whom, and how do we know that?" Eran must have run into a very limited set of designers if his experience has been "Are you producing a product that uses technology to solve a problem in unique or better way?If so, you're a tech entrepreneur. If you're selling a design service, it's non-tech." -- most of the most innovative mobile apps were built by people who are considered designers.

Brett also has a good point that UX people rarely make six figures just for interning and rarely have the ears of VCs who will fund a year of producing nothing for the public, or years with no profits, the way they do with engineers. This may be a vicious circle, or self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the last few years, I've met with a lot of founders and would-be founders. What mostly drove me away was their lack of interest in learning what a UX designer can and has been trained to do, or outright discounting of it. Too often I get (sorry, Robert) an earful of phrases they learned at b school -- sincere and passionate, but often just because they think they need to use words like "incentivize" to sound serious, rather than for good reason -- or the concern for selling over solving user problems. Or I get told, "I just need you to implement my vision/make my sketches look pretty" or some variant thereof.

The core of design and design thinking, what we know leads to better everything, is to take every decision (design or business) as an hypothesis, one that has to be tested against the real world. Do you think you have a great idea for a product? How do you know anyone else in the world would want this? How does this solve a problem for real people, or will delight people? UX design helps test and discover this. But you have to be willing to revise or let go of your vision, and look for a better one. That leads to a better product, but this is where designers find founders push way, way back, and so the designer can't do his or her job. I wrote about this athttp://boxesandarrows.com/we-dont-research-we-build .

To be sure, there's frustration all around, and we could all do a better job of listening and understanding where the other person is coming from. But I can only make the case from one side, and raise awareness from one side, and try to do better each time myself.

Jessica Alter Entrepreneur & Advisor

December 11th, 2014

So I think Alexia is asking as a whole, not looking for edge case proof points that there are a ton. I actually wrote an article about this in WIRED based on http://www.wired.com/2013/08/why-arent-more-startups-founded-by-designers/ but the gist is (simplifying) designers fall into two categories:
1. Many designers really love just design and that's fabulous (and also why they enjoy design agencies), but as an entrepreneur you don't get to do just one thing - you do 20. So for those designers who are simply passionate about their craft, entrepreneurship might not be for them.
2. Those that love Design Thinking - solving problems and iterating - designers are amazingly well suited for entrepreneurship. For those They may need more examples of success.


December 12th, 2014

I agree with LanVy. One of the points missing in this discussion is qualifying "designers" - it is akin to saying (ha) - I am in "business". I am a graphic designer, I work in mediums of print, web, video and a little product design, interior design and even architecture. There are interface designers, programmer/designers, shoe designers, bag, accessory, landscape designers. I digress. I am assuming this was designer or - more broadly - creative.

I believe this is a simple left brain/right brain discussion. Creative people (for the most part) are not good business people. Conversely, many business folk have no creative vision at all (and the smart ones will admit it)

I am part of many technology start-ups, run my own creative agency (boutique) and am working on a luxury bag collection/brand. 

Again, LanVy is correct - creative people are working, making stuff - the really good ones don't get out much.

Daniel Turner Available

December 12th, 2014

Hopping back on to add this Jeffrey Veen quote I just heard (while watching a talk on mobile): 

"I’ve been amazed at how often those outside the discipline of design assume that what designers do is decoration. Good design is problem solving."


Daniel Turner Available

December 13th, 2014

Congrats, Kay -- sounds like that went well for you personally and professionally.

I've been mouthing off a lot but I'll just say that you don't need a tech background/expertise to work with technical experts. Think like a journalist: they have to interview and explain the works of Nobel Prize winners, or cutting-edge scientists, and explain it all to laypeople. Sure, there are scientists like Brian Greene who are great communicators on their own, but do you think all those people who wrote well about the Higgs boson were subatomic physicists? In my journalism days, I got to work with people like the creator of Lisp, and biochemists, and the like. 

If you have highly technical partner, you both need to practice the humility of saying, "speak to me like I'm a five-year-old" -- both on the speaking and listening side. Being able to explain your work that way not only helps you communicate better with people outside your area of expertise, but helps test and refine your idea -- and makes you more fun at parties.

If you're looking down on people who can't understand your work, you're not working hard enough on your communication skills. 

Joanan Hernandez CEO & Founder at Mollejuo

December 11th, 2014

Hello Alexia,

Brian Chesky, one of Airbnb founders, is a designer.


Brett Tuley Future Cofounder of a World Changing Startup :')

December 10th, 2014

Assuming your referring to the 'art' type of designer and not the kind that can also program and put together a web page then I have a couple thoughts:

I find that as I run into designers at entrepreneurial events they are often in a position where they need to get paid for the work they do and cannot take on the risk of co-founder. Perhaps because the average salary of an engineer is higher they simply have more opportunity to invest some of their time in risky unpaid exploration?

Also, there seems to be no shortage of people with ideas that 'just need a little design work' (I know I'm one of these entrepreneurs myself) and perhaps designers have been burned enough that they have learned to ask for money upfront?