Design Entrepreneurs

I am loathe to think that virtually every single person reading this thread doesn’t think very similarly to me. What I mean by that is that as Industrial Designers (in particular) we go to school with the mind set to think of new ideas. To think about how to create a new widget or gadget.

I have often wondered why schools don’t teach more business along with ID. Teach about the basics of fund raising. Teach about the fundamentals of running a business.

Being in the high tech field for the majority of my career, I have had hundreds of ideas for the next widget. Some of them horrible, some of them that I have seen later made and sold by a large(ish) company to make some, if not scads, of money.

What stops me from creating virtually any idea I have is money. OK, money and time. But with money, I could make the time.

Are there any ID schools that are teaching the entrepreneurial side of ID? Providing students with the confidence to start their own businesses? To be leaders of our next generation?

I am not talking “D-Schools”. Not post grad degrees. I am talking undergrad, 101/201 type courses.

Am I the only one that thinks that this is something that should be integrated more into ID curriculums?

ip, I agree with you. I think that the the entrepreneurial spirit is ingrained in most individuals that wish to pursue an ID career, but I will say that there are also many people that get turned off by the business side of ID. I knew several individuals in school that viewed the ID process as more of an art than a business. I am sure that these people would loath business classes. It would be difficult to see a business class made a requirement for ID, though for me personally, I would’ve enjoyed it.

In most schools you have the option to take electives, classes outside your major to round out your education. If business is something that you are strongly interested in, you can take it as an elective.

After 20+ years in ID plus an MBA I’ve bounced back-and-forth between the design side and the business side (marketing). I absolutely agree that designers should be sensitized to the business aspects of their profession. Without understanding some critical factors of the business world you could spin your (design) wheels and waste a lot of time:

  • Return on investment calculations
  • Tooling amortization demands
  • Market pricing and profit targets
  • Project scheduling linking to market roll-out

Granted, many large corporations have legions of product managers doing these things, but they speak a different language. I’ve worked at smaller companies where I was responsible for both product development and ownership of the products’ P&L. I enjoy both the left and right brain work.

As far as entrepreneurship goes, I wish I knew more VC guys to capitalize some of the ideas I’ve had over the years. IP is right - it’s all about time and money. I could probably write a pretty mean business plan, but finding the time to go on a VC fishing expedition would tug at my day job.

I see more design firms establishing separate divisions to ramp-up products that were internally developed. I sense that these are “down-time” projects that found some money to help launch. Great idea if they can find their way to market.

Isn’t that why its called “curriculum”? It’s mandatory? Besides, even if you are in ID to be an artisen, any/all of the skills a few semesters of Business and Marketing would only help you reduce your chances of being a starving artist.

hi, here are 2 cents of thoughts:

I too have lots of ideas that I doodle and make rough models.
Money is a problem. Borrowing from the bank is the last thing to do though some people do have a solid reason to say that timing is all.
I think students should learn the business aspects of it. Our local university is doing that. I am not a product of the local college but I learn the business tacts my self and use other areas in creativity to make the dollar. If you are resourceful, anything can be a money making idea.

VC is what most people would go for. It is one of the most probable wys of getting the money. But it can be very time consuming and fruitless in inself. Better to source out a new way to getting your dream ideas come true.

ps: you wrote: “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity…” is funny note… probably because most people do not want peace nor respect virginity. They just love hooping from bed to bed and still lost about how peace should come about ? Just maybe.

Great Post all. I agree with the idea of running a business as an elective. In fact it’s more than time to review all the current electives in a typical Design school education.

How about Presentation 101
Storytelling 101
Ethnography 101


I’m sure that among the people reading this, there are many, many, good ideas that could make someone rich. If any of you have worked with VC’s, then you would know that in order to get their money, you will give up so much equity in your enterprise that you’d probably make more on a decent salaried job with a lot less stress.

Of course there will be those who will want to point out the googles and yahoos, but in the design community you could just as easily ask why we all aren’t a bunch of starcks…

I find the discussion a little obvious… “Designers have good ideas, so why don’t designers learn about business.” Designers should know everything about everything. But the same could be said about marketers. Why don’t marketers learn about design, style, innovation, engineering, and good taste?

In the end, it takes money to make money. Here’s a typical scenario. A designer has a good idea, and using his connections, get’s it tooled and production ready. He has the interest of retailers who generously give him 30 day terms. Now he has to come up with $1m to build the products to get them to market. Where does a lone designer, with no rich uncles, get a $1m credit line to buy inventory at a cost that is less than his profit? Only answer if you’ve actually done this. Mythical money sources (such as the imaginary fund-anything “bank”) need not post.

In any case, back to the original post. Why would you rely on the school to teach you everything you want to know? After i graduated from university, i took a full load of business courses at the local college at night for two years to learn what i wanted to know… No one is stopping you!

In addition to business (marketing) and ethnographic research, let me add to the list. Why don’t they teach designers:

  • psychology
  • engineering
  • finance
  • manufacturing technologies
    and on, and on…

Does this hypothetical designer have only “interest”, or actual purchase orders from national retailers? Depending on what you’re making, where you’re making it, and who you’ve sold it to, you can sometimes get the manufacturer to extend you credit, or at least long enough that you can use factoring to cover the rest of the gap between invoice and payment. And yes, I have done this. It takes a very good relationship with the factory though.

The reality is, the scenario you described is both an unlikely and fairly dumb way for a lone designer to try to start out as a manufacturer. Start small, and sell direct if at all possible. Selling wholesale usually requires you to act as a bank to retailers, and you shouldn’t try to be the bank if you don’t have any money.

some schools do.

I did the B.I.D. program at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Regarded the best school for ID in Canada, and stacks up very well compared to many other US schools.

The school program includes (in addition to studio and other creative courses) courses from different faculties across the University (ie. they are real courses, not dumbed down for designers)-

Engineering Statics
Mass Production Technolgies (2 semester course, by the ID program- half on materials and half on processes)
Design History

plus theres a wide range of other courses available including envrionmental science, art history, etc.

From my perspective, the education is not only balanced (although granted, more skewed towards the classic engineering based design than arty/conceptual), but provides a great foundation for real world practice.

The thought of the curriculum, is that although you might not be an expert in engineering or psych (etc.), at least you’ll have the basics covered and can intelligently discuss with an Engineer or Human Factors expert, and know where they are coming from, how they see things, etc.

As for the entrepreneurial aspect of design, i think its difficult to teach, but our school also does/did provide some foundation for this in small projects where cost, margins, volumes, markets are looked at, not only the final design.

That being said, i’d be for much more courses such as-

business development
office politics

Best thing i can suggest to learn those and others is do a co-op. Carleton offers a co-op program and i did 16months in a product design studio, and probably learnt more about those real-world things then possible in any classroom.


Remeber Leonardo D spent as much time and effort in getting paid as he did in creating, creating anything. Entrepreneurship is NOT easy, but will make you a far better designer as you will see any “wiget” from every side of the system. Learn to read/write a spread sheet, find out what ceo’s find compelling, learn the realities of production and distrubution. All these things are part of the design of PRODUCTS, not just cool colors and neat shapes.