Design Entrepreneurship Thesis : In Progress

Hey guys,

I am in the process of working on my Senior Thesis project at DAAP, my topic revolves around Designers and Entrepreneurship.

If you have a moment I’d love to get your thoughts with a quick 10 question survey here:

Also if there is anyone interested in participating in a more in-depth interview please feel free to send me a PM. I’m interested in talking to anyone with a particular interest in Design Entrepreneurship, from students with no experience to professionals already doing it.

I am planning on populating this thread with my process from the semester, looking forward to sharing with you all!

Took the survey, good luck

Appreciate it AndreC!

Done, and congrats on the moderatorship!

did it!


I took your survey last night and I’m interested to see where this will go. Can you share some of your initial thoughts? Do you plan on starting a business, developing tools for other entrepreneurs, or something else entirely? I imagine the path you would take, even early on, would be very different for either of these routes.

I feel the same way… curious what you’re exploring, but I imagine it could skew the results if you share it too soon


I see your point. I’m just curious. You only want research subjects to know as much as they necessary to generate the data you need.

At the same time, we are all designers here and, hopefully, we want to help choto have the best thesis possible. My master’s thesis was similar in that my goal was to start a business and bring products to market.

If that is the route he is going, I may have some insights for him that go beyond what this survey can deliver. Not that I know everything, far from it.

By the way, Choto, I really like your sketch/stich experiments. Increasingly, that is how some of my work is being done, depending on the complexity of the product of course.


Thanks guys, I really appreciate it, just logged into my survey monkey as was really great to see so many responses already!

Yeah, I was holding off of too in depth of a discussion before I collected some results but essentially I will be starting a business, as a case study that will hopefully validate my initial hypothesis about designers starting their own thing (or fantastically failing which is totally possible as well!)

I will not only be documenting in as rich of detail possible my process, to share with other designers what worked and didn’t, but also extensively interviewing other successful designers doing what I’m trying to do to share their stories, and knowledge.

It sounds really broad right now, but hopefully as I post more it will start to come together more cohesively.

Thanks, I’ve been doing a lot of sewing and upholstering lately, hopefully will have more in that series in the next week or so.

Completed. Hope the research comes out well!

Waiting for the discussion part patiently!

Here we go!

I still haven’t gotten my elevator pitch down but the gist of my topic is exploring the multitude of new and old ways that designers are enabled to make (shapeways, ponoko, spoonflower, hand craft, limited production runs etc.) and sell (shapeways, etsy, custom made, etc.) their creations.

I will do this by creating a brand, making several “things” as examples, and selling them. I hope to document this process in as much detail as possible, sharing my insights, successes and failures, in an e-book that will be a living document, continually being revised and edited as I go along.

I will also be extensively interviewing people successfully doing this type of work and adding their insights and knowledge to the document.

Based on my research and talking to people, two polarized groups of designers emerged:

  1. Those interested in getting into something like this but limited by time and/or money
  2. Those with a lot of passion and interest for doing this type of thing as a full time gig, but little faith that it can be profitable

Similarly in surveying the landscape of ways people are making things there was a similar polarized breakup:

  1. Shapeways/Ponoko/Spoonflower type outfits where the designer is only responsible for creation of the I.P. and marketing their “things” while the service handles everything else
  2. Individuals making things themselves, often with their own tow hands while also handling all the logistics that come along with running a business

Of course these are the two extremes of both areas, with lots of grey space in between, but I will be using these extremes to frame the space that I will be working within, moving from one extreme to the other and hopefully hitting several spaces in between.

I don’t really get it. As a thesis you are just going to make something and sell it online while documenting it? Sounds like a craft project, and maybe fun, but nothing larger.

How does selling a few things online translate to a larger, profitable business or a model or process to follow? Given each project and person is different how can you hope to make some sort of process that can be followed that works?

Have you analyzed your data correctly? If so many people you interviewed are doing this with little professional experience, is it because that is the best time, or that is the only people you could find, or they have nothing better to do? How many of those projects are profitable? Have lasted more than 5 years? If so many people think location is important, how does that impact starting a business relying on the internet?

I know you are a clever guy and I’m sure you can make something and sell it online in the same way other have, but I don’t really see this as a thesis or demonstration of a larger issue, solution, problem or business model.

Would love to hear your thoughts on how this is different than anyone else selling some small thing (leather wallet, bike part, hipster iphone accessory, etc.) online currently.


Thanks for the reply Richard. I have had this reaction from almost everyone I’ve pitched this idea to, so you are not alone :smiley:

I agree on the surface, this is essentially about simply making and selling, nothing revolutionary or ground breaking. But at a deeper level, and hopefully what I ultimately am trying to do is open a richer dialogue around designers pursuing (at a multitude of levels of commitment) these types of ventures; and build a resource to house all this, with the understanding that knowledge is power.

I feel like designers as a community are bad about sharing knowledge on almost all things related to money. From salaries and benefits, to freelance rates, to business strategies, to talking about profitability. For some reason we don’t talk as freely about some of these topics and as a result, I believe, there is a collective loss of not only knowledge but also opportunity.

I hope through me going through this process, and sharing it with as much transparency as possible, and extensively interviewing and engaging others doing this type of thing I hope that the end result will be a source of knowledge that others will find useful. I know that that won’t be winning any IDEA or RedDots with this :smiley: , but just through talking to other designers and students I know there is a lot of excitement on seeing how this plays out, and are excited about the concept of just talking about this type of venture with more transparency.

These are two examples of the type of knowledge resource that on the surface are very simple but I believe add tremendous value to those who are interested:

Studio Neat, the guys that did the Glif and Cosmonaut Kickstarter, published a short e-book on their successes and failures, navigating manufacturing, order fulfillment, packaging, all the small things that 99% of people could care less about but the small things that anyone looking to do this sort of thing would care tremendously about

Design Founders which is a book series exploring the path of tech startups like Pinterest, Behance, and fuseproject.

I think this is going to be the type of project that only starts to make sense the further along it gets, but hopefully it makes a little more sense