Stop looking and Start creating

I think the major problem with design to many people are graduating from design school and looking for a job and not graduating and trying to create design bussiness…I know it is difficult …but someone has to try …to many designers are trying to work at IDEO like places …F them …we are part of the problem …we need to stop thinking like sheeps and became leaders…why not…I know it is hard…I trying …but I lack the skills to run my own firm…why? I blame my school and myself… I should have taken some business courses…I think we all have talent to create …anything even a great design firm…Why not?

if I can inspire one of you …it has begun…

leaders we are… :bulb:

I do respect your intentions. With the skills and methodologies in hand graduating designers can make quite a difference. But what the IDEOs have are the clients and the reputation. I’d be curious to hear more about how individuals, or even groups of new graduates can hope to break into the consultancy/contractor business. How do we get into the companies in order to woo them? How do we scope a project to pitch without knowing what they need? I’m not mocking the discussion, rather I’d take any suggestions.

I agree with you …i’m not really sure myself…I’m wondering …what is the missing link…? why is it not happening??..

what is the missing link…?

Think about it. It takes more than skill to launch a successful business venture.

Simply put, it takes $$$ … it’s called capital.

It’s the money to rent an office/shop space, purchase equipment, software, materials, telephone, fax, and cable services; turn on the lights, and keep the place warm. And that doesn’t even include paying you, your landlord, your utilities, your grocer, or your transportation.

It’s the money required to exist while doing the initial job. The first person an entrepreneur must pay is him/herself; because ‘you’ are the energizing factor that drives the firm.

And having A job in the shop isn’t enough, you have to have another one lined up before the first one is done; which usually means an advertising / marketing budget, and time taken away from the initial project.

These aren’t reasons why you shouldn’t try it, they’re just examples of the hurdles involved.

Most of us graduated with a heavy debt load, I know I did. Starting my own shop after I graduated was goal I set for myself. The reality of it was; I didn’t have the bank to be able to ‘not work’ for the year and a half that it takes to get a new business rolling. I had to have a job.

Now if your Daddy has set you up with a fat Trust Fund …

You come off as a whiner, don’t blame your school, unless you got severly ripped off. School is what you make of it, that being said, so is post-graduation. Sure, unless you’ve got that trust fund you’re probably not going to be setting up shop right out of school, you can however get freelance work, which can have a mighty low overhead, especially if you can do it from home, or better yet if a client invites you in to work there with them. Freelance isn’t really as hard to drum up as people think. Set up a cookin’ portfolio site, use your contacts, if you have them, if not then get on the web and search around, there’s some freelance bidding sites, but you can always cold call companys that you think might contract design services and ask if that’s the case. If it is ask them if they have any projects lined up, if they don’t then ask them if they could put you on a roster of “on-call” designers. They might never call you, but you’d be surprised where your contact info might end up.

Where does all of this lead you? Well you can start with a low rate to get people to sign you on, then raise it when new opportunities come along. If you’re good with your money you might just be able to start up your own shop. Best advice though would be to find some kind of design gig, even if it’s bottom of the barrel it’s extra income and possible benefits, and you can freelance on the side.

Start at the beginning though and be honest with yourself. Do you have the skills and talent to do the work?

I agree with the initial premise here. There’s a serious oversupply of very talented and qualified designers on the market right now, experienced or not. But you can only blame inadequate design education for so much. After all, people from many other backgrounds start business ventures every day without ever having had a single business management course.

A lot of talk here seems to be about design consulting, an area fraught with many perils and heartache despite at first seeming a “natural” for a designer with a few years’ experience. Problem is, ID consulting is simply saturated and design services in general - especially for an unknown starting out - are very hard to sell as potential clients just lump you in with the countless others all offering essentially the same thing - promises of future returns, for an upright fee. Promises equal speculation in the eyes of any seasoned business owner. This is how new prospects see design offers, it’s just unfortunate many freelancing designers don’t grasp the simple fact that people rarely pay for something they cannot size up, much less so understand.

Prospects become clients more easily once you or your firm become a known entity with some mileage to speak for. But that can take years, and assumes a continuously prosperous business environment for that time. It also assumes many other things stay the same during those lean years, such as your health and marital status, but let’s not go there.

Instead of crawling on their knees for the few worthwhile jobs out there at any given time, instead of wasting precious years embellishing resumes, concocting desperate cover letters and anxiously waiting for interviews, designers with some industry experience should jump straight into, either partnerships with local manufacturers, or simply make and sell their own stuff (key concept here: START SMALL, VERY SMALL). True creatives don’t wait for others to “allow” them to practice their creativity through a job. A job is not a “license” to prove your worth. It only proves you were a better fit or luckier that one time. And we all know it is not necessarily the most competent that gets the job, otherwise companies would be composed strictly of star performers and geniuses.

Designers today tend to be very safe and subservient, afraid to rock the boat because it may cost them The Job, but not ashamed to endlessly complain on public forums about what a raw deal they got.

Most IDers looking for work today will rarely ever find stable employment for very long during their lifetimes. There is very little meaningful creative work left available as ready-tailored jobs in ID, but there are endless opportunities for those willing to do more than run around with a portfolio and take their ideas directly to their ultimate users. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, but job-hopping is, well, just bad business.

Your school didn’t tell you what classes you couldn’t take, you could have taken every class offered at the school if you’d stayed long enough.

Greenman makes an excellent point. Freelancing is probably the best way to start. In the mean time, hit up your local community college for some basic business classes. Its probably the best thing you can do while you’re still trying to get going. After that, and you have some contacts established- get a small business loan from the bank of your choice and start your new firm. Partner up with some friends from school, or shop around Core for some prospective business partners (people who are in the same boat as you, i.e. frustrated, talented, young designers)

Enter cliche here: Life is what you make of it.

I agree with most of you guys …but I think school doesn’t train designer to be leader and general we are trained to be sheeps…to work for other… that is fine but it’s only one side of the market …Not everybody goals should be let try and get a job at IDEO type of places …that is really my point…because I fell like it is unrealistic…some people have the skills, the talent, the MONEY?, to take a risk…so please do…and it’s not about starting a design firm … it’s more then that it’s about starting a business… like selling and designing baby hats or shoes…not just sell our design services…that is all … people just don’t think outside the box…design is everywhere.

…I guess …maybe I wrong… maybe Ideo type of design work …is the only way for all designers coming out of school…

peace :neutral_face:

my school never told me to get a job at Ideo, it sounds like you thought that was the place to be for a while, but have now changed your mind. Yes when you go to school for ID, you are being trained to be a worker, not a manager. What did you think you were going for. If you go to school to be a doctor, quess what you’ll be… a doctor, not a manager.

Maybe business would have been a better fit for you.

I do agree, there is a discrepancy somewhere. Not that its the fault of the degree … you learn what you set out to learn.

I, for one, completed my MBA degree. I have the knowledge to run a business (ok may be not enuff capital to invest lol) but with a good product I can start out small and I know I can make it into a success. However, I do not have the training to come up with the product itself (which is the way to go if you are short on capital and want to start small).

So yes there is this discrepency - the people who can come up with the product, in most cases do not have the knowledge to run a business and vice versa. Not that it can’t be learnt. I believe that if you do put your mind to it you can learn. In your case you can start with a few business courses. Take courses related to Marketing Basics, Brand Management, Consumer Behaviour, may be take some course specific to retailing.

I was looking at London College of Fashion for some courses related to Handbag Design (I’m thinking of following my own advice lol) and they had some business related courses - specific to the Fashion industry and Fashion Retailing. I’m sure you can find similiar courses related to whatever field you are interested in.

I have definitely wondered why all the people who graduate from Design Schools and have the ability to come up with their own brands, hardly ever do. If I had that knowledge I would just add a few business courses to my education and start out (But then I may not have the business mind set to take those courses… ah a double edged sword lol).


Maybe a couple of examples of others who have done it might help…
This idea came about when one of the founders moved to London and found that most of the furniture on the market didnt fit into his shoe box apartment. He decided there was an obvious gap inthe market for things that were small, functional and stylish. So while he handles the business end he teamed up with a young designer to create the concept. It’s hard maybe even next to impossible to do anything alone.

This bloke proved that a strong vision coupled with audacity can help…

Anybody have any other examples of how?

There are quite a few designer/entrepreneurs out there running what seem to be successful businesses.

Blu Dot is one company that comes to mind as being the model of what a design start-up can become.

Agreed! There are always exceptions. In the design world there will be people who will start businesses and successful ones at that rather than work for someone. And there will always be people with a business education who will venture out in the design arena and set up a business as oppposed to, again, working to someone else.

Lets face it … its easier to work for someone else … you get a regular pay check. Its simpler and its safer!! Which is why it takes people with a certain mind set to go into business … you have to be a risk taker. And you have to work harder as well as smarter and not give up.

So how many of you would eventually like to own your own business? K let me rephrase … not just want lol … but are actually willing to make the effort?


Beyond the valley ( was create from a group of design grads who wanted to do there own thing instead of working for others. I think its a group collective allowing designers to sell there work.

There is orginastions such as NESTA/SMART in the UK which you can apply for funding to help start your venture. There is also free or v cheap basic buisness courses you can take from buisniess link.

I would proberbly see it best to shack up with a business bod so you can concentrate on the design side of things…no one wants to be a manager/ business man do they?

The main issue as other have mentioned is building up your client base. The market seems to be flooded with design groups of all sizes.

Design schools must do a better job showing why and how self-employment for their graduates is not only a natural course for creative people but also not necessarily riskier than traditional paid employment (someone here said jobs were “safe”?). I regularly meet young designers “thinking” about doing it but all they see is furniture and tired household stuff the stores already stand to explode from. Or design consulting, best left as a part-time hobby if you’re small in today’s market.

There’s a lot more to be redone around us than tables, chairs and lamps, people. Not to mention if you’re selling any of these, you are asking a majority of buyers to throw out the stuff they already have for yours. Furniture is not cell phones, if what people have is even half-decent, there’s little incentive to replace it. Which makes this category a tough-sell in this crowded market. Good for the designer’s ego and that magazine article but can you make a living at it?

Much hangs on how you as an individual define financial success. What yearly revenue does your lifestyle require? There are many self-employed visual artists, for example, making just enough to have - by their standards - a decent living free from the pressures of a regular job, yet enough to guarantee them the creative freedom they seek. Designers by and large tend to have much higher material standards, so it follows that financial independence is proportionately more difficult to achieve.

The opportunities will always be in delivering products or services (or a combination) in an original format. Nothing earth-shattering here, true. That’s because the secret is how to creatively have the maximum market impact with as little an investment as possible. This is where designers with too little industry experience get bogged down - they see capital investments of hundreds of thousands as their only passport to manufacturing success. This is not only patently false but a pretty sure killer for your credit rating down the line as less than 5% of new products even stand a minuscule chance of making it on store shelves.

The other major, major strategic mistake is attempting to base a company on a single product idea, and/or try to push a single idea as necessarily a fit-all solution for all people. This obviously forces you into the very expensive and time-consuming world of patents and high-volume manufacturing, all for the benefit of trying out a single idea. Which may or not click. You might as well play the lottery every week, right?

I don’t know where this herd mentality comes from, but both these make-it-or-break-it approaches are too high risk to consistently work out. Say you have a great idea for a garden tool. Where is it written that you have a solution necessarily fitting the way millions of people will use that tool? People will each hold, handle, press, clean and store that tool in a myriad ways specific to their age, sex, physical condition, technical abilities and so on. It follows then you might as well design for a small, even very small market highly receptive to a single very clear benefit of your product. Say, a garden tool for women over 60 suffering from arthritis. Lower production volumes mean lots of things, such as better quality control, a wider selection of low-cost manufacturing/assembly processes to chose from, less time to market, and so on. Oh, did I mention higher profits? Why? Rarity - no one makes exactly what that woman needs. If you had arthritis but loved gardening and only had one product on the shelf made just for you, you’d look at it as if divine intervention put it there - price is secondary.

So instead of making 2 million of your universal garden gizmo that tries hard to be all things to all people you have only served a defined market of, say, 20,000 people. At even $5 unit profit (a pittance) you have just made 100K, and hopefully this isn’t your only product in the pipeline. Your bigger competition will sneer at you for the simple reason they are tooled up for only millions of parts per year, effectively RESTRICTING them financially from considering niche products. Small runs don’t pay off for the big guys, but that doesn’t mean there are no opportunities in our over-standardized material world. The business model you once wanted to emulate is actually their prison.

The conclusion here is that more designers could become small, efficient and VERY profitable manufacturers if only they stopped dreaming of landing their stuff at WalMart or IKEA. The big boys play only among the big boys, that much is clear. However, if you are small and don’t ambition to become IKEA’s competitor (why would one anyway) you can fill smaller market needs very quickly and with very small capital investments, actually disproportionately smaller than your income potential.

Smaller markets do not attract the big sharks, in fact you will barely find any competition in some niche product categories, you do not need to bother with idiotic patents that do nothing for you anyway, profit margins are higher, and you can move freely from one product idea to another without continually having to fight the competition.

It’s a question of what leagues you want to play in. Certainly, some product categories are far more profitable than others, it’s definitely the case for more technical products or unusual items providing a continually satisfying (renewable) user experience. This is not easy to achieve, but it’s always better to stand out from the pack in front of 500 people than make no impression whatsoever on millions. If 500 people each provide you an individual profit of $100 for a limited-run item you have just made an annual pre-tax salary of $70K or more. And 500 units barely registers as a “market”. The exciting thing is that there is literally an infinite number of such micro-markets no one pays attention to because everyone is busy trying to sell hundreds of thousands of that single one gizmo to big-box stores. Profit margins decline steeply at such volumes, Asian competition is smiling at you everywhere and these chains are notoriously vicious with their suppliers. And you better sell all your stuff quickly when you’re in such debt.

The overall idea is not to always see small, but to start very small and gradually multiply these micro ventures as you see fit, economically feasible once you start hitting a sucess or two. This way, failures won’t paralyze you and you don’t risk losing your shirt, years of your life and sanity if “It” doesn’t pan out. Resist the temptation to announce the world that one big Idea that will revolutionize how people live and breathe, that’s Hollywood stuff you eat popcorn watching. Instead of attempting to hit it big right away because “you just know” everyone everywhere will just love you and throw their money at you, break your creative genius into many more, smaller bits that aim to resolve smaller, apparently trivial everyday product problems.

For example, make an object easier to clean, lighter to carry, rust-proof, or a sterile one just plain fun to hold in your hand. Enough people at any given time will thank you with their wallets for it. No need to reinvent the stuff, just take care of any one of the millions of small irritants that bother people everyday and they constantly groan about. The evolutionary market for small, incremential product improvements is, in my experience, far larger than for revolutionary products. It is fragmented and difficult for the larger players to seize and capitalize on but it is a wonderful and practically endless financial opportunity for smaller producers with an eye to detail.

Industrial designers are sensitive individuals in a unique position, especially compared with engineers, to satisfy precisely such smaller daily product “nuisances” in the form of short runs of well-thought, well crafted products with a clear, if very particular message. What to us may seem trivial makes another person’s day easier at a particular (maybe repetitive) moment in time. That sort of personalized attention today is a priceless commodity. It is also where the product has actually become … a service.

You have hit the nail the nail on the head!!

It is all about Niche Marketing - its about finding that right market for your product … find the gaps … find whats needed by a smaller group of people and is lacking in the market because like the above post says the bigger players cannot be bothered with it.

But its also not just about building the better Mousetrap. Remember that saying … just because you built the perfect mousetrap does not mean the world will beat the path to your door step. They have to know that the product exists and then they are the ones who have to perceive it that way. Its the way you present your brand to your market. Its all about the perception. Just producing an amazing product for the right niche market is not enuff. You have to communicate to them that it is the right product for them and a high quality product.

Personally for me, running my own business has been my top priority. If I’m going to work my butt off then I might as well do it for me and enjoy the rewards of my hard work … of course I may have to wait a bit longer for that and go into it with the knowledge that the idea may not take off. But I believe that just because one idea does not take off does not mean that the business is a failure. Failure is when you give up.


Egg, thanks for the lengthy post. You are Erum have me wanting to quit my office job right this second! :laughing:

I’m one of the few (?) designers that are trying to break away from the corporate world to start a micro business. I’ve been out of school for two years, and have come to detest the corporate structure of most companies as well as the nature of the furniture industry I work in (residential). Right out of school I would have fallen flat on my face trying to start a business, but working in the corporate world has given me a great deal of insight, experience, and motivation to go a totally different route with my life.

Part of my preparation to branch out on my own is to take some business courses as I never took any such classes in college… never thought I’d need them! (hindsight is 20/20 for sure). That will at least give me a fighting chance on the business side of the equation.

I want to design and produce furniture, however. While it is an over-saturated market, most of that saturation is so bland and unimaginative that its painfull. Maybe its just my inexperience, but it seems obvious that the higher-end design-minded customers would want an alternative to what you see in most furniture stores as well as the “classics” of modern design that are not much more than a status symbol now. The small, design-driven furniture producers seem to be doing relatively well by my definition of success. I only hope that I will be as successful.

Ah! But don’t quit just yet :wink:

Take those business courses and Plan, Plan, Plan! Know exactly what you will do once you start. Have a business plan ready. Study your market, research it. Decide on an image for your brand, decide how and where you are going to market it. Do the costing, work on the pricing! Oh and don’t forget to work on the product lol. Even the best marketing effort needs a good quality product behind it if you want return customers and Word-of Mouth advertising to work. And this is one of the best forms of Marketing IMO.

One of the exercises we used to work on in Brand Management was treating your brand like a personality. Work as if your brand is a person, then write down what you think its personality is like…if it were to talk to you what would it say … what would you say to it. I know that sounds really weird to some people lol but it really helps you come up with a lot of interesting concepts and a brand image that people can relate to.

Research your customer! Who are they? What kind of personality types? What demographics? Talk to people. Do small surveys.

And when you are ready … go for it :slight_smile:


I think a great thing to remember is that like stated in that list of “things they never taught me in design school”, talent is only one-third of the success equation. Access to money and resources are key.

I mean just look at any rich idiot today and almost all of them have a clothing line or perfume or something. Is it because they have more talent than you - probably not, but they do have cashflow and influential families who can get them in the door through favors and IOU’s going back decades. They’ve learned how to make money work for them.

I’ve been doing freelance for a little under a year now and love it compared to working for a firm but I still lack the financing to do anything great. Once in a while I might get a really nice gig but that cash is quickly diverted to paying debt, expenses, and if I’m lucky a little goes into savings or new equipment.

Don’t worry - I’m not going to quit too soon! :sunglasses: Too much planning left at this point.

mmjohns - you are right about money and resources being a big part of the equation. I would add having a wide network of contacts and friends is more than just beneficial; more often than not I see small businesses succeeding because they have friends/contacts who get thier products shown to buyers, in stores, manufactured cheaply, etc.

I guess the real question is - can one start a sucessful business without the large reserves of money, resources, and influential family/network?

Personally, I don’t have a large reserve of money, I’ve got minimal resources readily available, my family is not influential, and my network is limited. Which makes it seem like the odds are against me… ?