Designer founders aren’t unheard of – there are many out there who’ve built very successful startups. They bring in a design-centric perspective to startups which ends up resonating throughout the products and companies they grow to become. As I see it, a designer is essential to a well-rounded founding team in a startup, and can bring in early success.
In a world where people use beautifully designed products and applications going from the sleek iPhones to the beautifully smooth iOS interface they run; people tend to expect a better user experience out of everything. Good designers come out of the box ready to build better user experiences, and therefore are able to put the whole team in the right direction for better business.
Off the shelf designers have many qualities that make them perfect entrepreneurs: an eye for detail, problem solving on multiple dimensions, and their process of creating (to name a few). Yet not all designers are cut out to make great founders. There are a few extra qualities in the ‘*required’ section. First and foremost they must be able to creatively connect two worlds. A good example of this would be something like technology and user experience. Successful design-founders have the ability to make complex technology work for the everyday person, helping a startup takeoff, and bringing in early success.
The real problem is that there aren’t too many designers willing to turn entrepreneur! Most artistic types tend to be driven by their craft and want to preserve the freedom to explore it — hence they go into design agencies or work in advertising. But this is not the type of entrepreneurship I want to talk about. I want to talk about designers being founding members of startups in which they have to do much more than just design.
Being a founder of a brand new startup means bringing your design values to the table, but at the same time also taking in the bigger picture to walk the fine line away from creating, to keeping investors happy and making the overall business work.
I think the best example of a startup (when it was founded) being lead by design oriented thinking was Apple (started by Steve Jobs) – But we’ve all heard that story. So let’s dig into a few more unheard of (yet still popular) products from designer founders.
Starting with Vimeo. Zack Klein co-founded and designed it in 2004. It was founded at the time Zack was working with CollegeHumor. His friend Jake Lodwick (Co-founder of Vimeo) wanted to be able to share small video clips, and ended up creating a text-based page, which Zeck developed to create a more graphical version (similar to the design today). You can read a full interview at designerfounders.com where Zack specifically mentions “I wanted things to feel as if they were made by a human” which is exactly the type of thing a designer could bring to the table of a startup — specially for an internet-businesses.
Behance was affected even more by its designer co-founder than Vimeo. Matias Corea was originally a print and brand designer who was approached by Scott Belsky (co-founder of Behance) to help build Behance; which everyone knows as the leading portfolio creator for creatives. Now if you read the full interview at designerfounders.com, you’ll understand that their partnership complimented each other perfectly — “I turned Scott into a designer, he turned me into an entrepreneur”. Designers typically turn a blind eye on the business end by focusing too much on the design. There are many times when the ‘less designed’ versions can perform better with the actual customers and learning to sacrifice perfect-design for overall success is one of the largest challenges a typical design-founder would have to master in order to become a successful entrepreneur.
It’s often harder for designers to create a sustainable business by simply deciding to get into it head first. Most would simply put too much focus on the design aspects, like getting into the branding of a product even before planning out the company or knowing what it’s going to be. If you want to become a successful design-founder you must do your research. Learn every aspect of running a business from friends, other co-founders, and books. You must first learn the process of building a company and then draw on your design values to make it something inspiring and stunning!
Article as seen on the 7th edition of Designn Magazine: