Design entrepreneur

Bruce Nussbaum recently listed four trends in design and innovation he’s observed after visiting Ziba, SMARTdesign and Continuum design studios. The fourth one caught my interest.

4– A new VCD (Venture Capital Design) model is emerging. Yves Behar’s fuseprojects and others are funding new brands either directly or with partners. Designers are using their talent for spotting new trends and their ability to translate insights into new products and services to directly create new brands, instead of doing it for large companies. Smart began the trend by taking royalty positions in OXO in other brands many years ago as part of its compensation. This has expanded to funding new brands. A VCD model embraces both strategy and stuff and adds investment to the mix.
Venture Capital firms are turning to Behar and other Designers to bring them brands and concepts. This is a new role for Designers. > Click for rest of article

As I explore designs role in business entrepeneurism is something that really interests me. I’ve comes across the term ‘design entrepeneur’ though I’m not entirely convinced. For me I’m yet to find a characteristic that differentiates a design entrepreneur from your standard entrepreneur. At the end of the day you’re solving a problem, the process to solve this problem will differ from person-to-person depending on their background, I’m not so sure it deserves a separate ‘title’ just because you’re from the world of design. Though I do feel the term highlights designers awareness of entrepreneurism.

I’m interested to hear of others thoughts on Nussbaum’s VCD model and the ‘design entrepenur’. It’d also be great to hear any advice for a student interested in entrepreneurism and your thoughts on the field.

That’s something I’ve been wondering for the past 5 years about, why more design firms aren’t going in this direction. It seems like the typical pecking order is backwards.

I’ve worked on a number of projects like this through consultancy. It typically requires a lot of investment from the design firm in terms of time, money and resources. A firm may get a small retainer up front, but all the royalties only "roll in"after the product is selling. It makes a lot of sense on theory but difficult to do well; that’s why prospective projects like this will only make up small percentage of resources at any given place.

Such royalty agreements do exist, but as it’s been said, they are more the exception. Here’s my take on why:

If I am investing a lot of time and money in a product, I want to have control over what it becomes. In order for such an arrangement to be successful, there are a few things you need:

-Excellent client relationship
-Strong belief in the product idea
-A client that is willing to enter into some kind of royalty contract.

The problem becomes that if you have a strong belief in the product idea, your client probably does as well and would just as soon keep the profits to themselves. The only way I see around this is if the client is unable/unwilling to pay all the development costs in which case you may just strike gold.

The other option I’ve seen some firms do (usually in downtime) is to develop a product on their own, and then license it to a company.

Also when it comes down to it- most of us are enamored of the process of solving- not the individual solutions. A lot of entrepreneurs are more connected to the particular field/product that they are solving for.

A lot of entrepreneurs are more connected to the particular field/product that they are solving for.

I’ve noticed this, it seems many successful entrepreneurs never intended to be entrepreneurs.

Though I see no reason this should put designers or (anyone for that matter) off since adapting to different projects is an everyday thing for a designer, especially those at consultancies. Quite the opposite, its a fresh outlook, one of the reasons designers are often used in the first place.

A lot of entrepreneurs are more connected to the particular field/product that they are solving for.

Although we’re all formally trained in problem solving, I’ve long maintained that it is difficult to beat a “design” developed by an actual “user”. The same can be said for all entrepreneurs; they are individuals who are so committed to, and driven by, their concept that nothing will dampen their enthusiasm to succeed.

Sometimes success is due less to ability than zeal. The winner is he who gives himself to his work body and soul.

  • Charles Buxton



    In the realm of ideas, everything depends on enthusiasm; in the real world, all rests on perseverance.
  • Johann von Goethe

I’ve long maintained that it is difficult to beat a “design” developed by an actual “user”.