Good Design as Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurial ability is hard to define, which may help explain why it's so easy to overlook. Sure, it's pretty easy to spot the entrepreneurship in big names like Elon Musk and Sergey Brin - they founded companies that are now household names.

But entrepreneurship isn't just about founding a company. In fact, that's a pretty limiting definition because it excludes legions of innovative and revolutionary thinkers whose primary entrepreneurial tools are not building and running businesses.

Design is a great example.

Designers never get their due as entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs - those who change things within existing organizations or structures. That's a shame because design, along with other innovative abilities such as logistics, technology or marketing, can change how companies and entire markets and economies function. Looking at the big picture, few things are as disruptive as new design. Steve Jobs was, as a co-founder of Apple, absolutely an entrepreneur. No question about it. But first among many of his entrepreneurial abilities was design.

"Design means more than just making something. It's making something thoughtfully, so that people want to use it and actually can," Danish Kurani, the designer of revolutionary learning places told me. "Making a space is relatively easy. But designing a space capable of changing the way we feel or how we work requires entrepreneurial skills like creativity, experimentation, and persistence. Good design can't happen without the vision and daring that come with entrepreneurship."

That's especially true when it comes to rethinking systems and products we think we know well already - things such as schools, for example. Appreneurship Academy took one on one coaching of aspiring app entrepreneurs onto an online workshop. Rahul Varshneya, co-founder of Appreneurship Academy told me, "It's relatively easy to run a classroom or one on one coaching where the subject is right in front of you and you hold their attention directly. Scaling up to an online medium requires design thinking - how do you create an online academy that can hold the attention and engage hundreds and thousands of people at the same time. It takes more than an entrepreneur to rethink designing of traditional products in the digital space." In fact, bringing new design thinking to traditional products and markets requires more entrepreneurial ability. Designing a widget no one has ever seen before is easy when compared to designing a refrigerator or a billboard - things that come with both rigid space limitation and deep expectations of look and performance.

It's under these conditions that designers are at their entrepreneurial best.

Icon is a leading manufacturer of custom signage for businesses, which puts them right at the heart of entrepreneurial design. "We translate design concepts into physical branding elements," Kurt Ripkey, CEO, of Icon says. "Engineering a sign is far more detailed than just building a product to spec; you need to manufacture solutions that maintain the integrity of the designer's concepts. In many ways it's similar to entrepreneurship because the most creative designers are the ones who reimagine ordinary products with their own personal touch."  

As he points out, it's a slight to say that visual branding and signage are just design - there are many other important elements that separate good work from really great work. But still, at its core, visual branding is rooted in design, so it's design entrepreneurs that separate a sign from art, which changes the way we see something and shapes how we use it.

Creativity in designing tech-centered learning environments in school or traffic-stopping signage is important, there's no doubt. But just as creativity is part of the entrepreneurship mindset and innovation, it's not the only element. "Creativity alone, however, is not sufficient for innovation: innovation also requires the development, production and implementation of an idea," Harvard Business Review reported.

Creative designers who can take their innovative ideas to market and actually make change are entrepreneurs every bit as much as those we traditionally think of in those roles. They may not get the notoriety or paychecks of some of the names we know, but they are absolutely members of the entrepreneurship club.