I'm happy to announce that in the coming months, I'll be increasingly involved in a new nonprofit called The Designer Fund. This is a community of designers that will be investing in design founders through education, angel funding, and access to a network of people and resources to help them create their own businesses.
If you have ideas for your own business, or an existing prototype or early-stage app or service that you've been trying to get off the ground, this is an awesome opportunity to get serious about it. As you'll see from the other people associated with this venture, you can potentially be mentored or receive angel funding from some of today's top designers, both from early-stage designers at YouTube, Facebook, Google, and Twitter to designers at IDEO, Cooper, Jump Associates, and Method, as well as current designers at Path and Flipboard. (And me.)
Why? Because recently, I've seen a number of online discussions about ways that designers can have "a seat at the table" with their clients. How they can be part of helping to formulate product, service, or marketing strategy. How they can be seen as adding more value to businesses than just providing an aesthetic perspective. How they can collaborate more effectively with their cohorts in technology and business. These discussions are valuable for those of us who work in-house, or are hired by companies to provide the right kind of influence, at the right time, to create the meaningful impact. Designers may yield profit from providing services to these clients, but it's rare that they get to profit from creating and deploying the products themselves.
In conducting my research for my next book—talking with a wide range of designers both at design studios, within in-house studios, and working at their own startup ventures—I've come to the (perhaps apparent) perspective that both fledgling and seasoned designers can be extraordinarily effective at designing and running businesses. It's not just about having a seat at the table with senior-level executives, changing the course of how that company makes their customers' lives better. It's that they can own the table. Their passion, knowledge, skill, and artistry are all brought to bear with the right partners to create businesses that transcend the common billing-for-services model. While that model is an important path today for many of us (myself included), it is not the only way to make what you love.
A hypothesis needs to be borne out: that designer-led businesses and startups could perhaps be more valuable in the long term than traditional startups. In the best case, designers can launch the next wave of innovation. In the worst case, more designers understand how to create awesome products and services, and then enter into employment with today's leading agencies and companies.