Discussing entrepreneurship

Justin Kropp — who writes a blog called One Skinnyj — recently got in touch to ask if I’d be game for an interview and I was happy to oblige. His questions were thoughtful and wide-ranging, but one topic I enjoyed discussing in particular was entrepreneurship, so I thought I’d pull out two pieces of our conversation to share in that vein.

First, Justin asked me to weigh in on the “end of client services” conversation — described thoughtfully here, here, and here — and I tried to add a slightly more historical take on the increasing popularity of this mode of practice:

We’ve always seen designers seek opportunities and models for practice outside of commissioned work — whether it was setting up publishing programs, advocating for cultural resistance, building institutions that centralize and reinforce design’s cultural capital, or finding solace in a world of “self-initiated” projects. In many ways, each of these alternative practice models is a product of their times, and the shift to entrepreneurial endeavors you mention is no different. I think we should, as designers, keep inventing more of these as time goes on. But I think as long as design’s central narrative is one of a problem-solving, analytical discipline, then the need and opportunity for service-driven practice will persist and endure. What’s notable, if anything, is the degree to which a ’90s-era world of self-initiated work has broadened, in the ’00s, and with the help of the internet, to a world far beyond the self — it’s now a whole design culture, large enough to support the careers of certain designers without the need for them to frame their practices through service. But I’ll sound a cautionary note here: while I think it’s good to launch projects that other designers think are great, I think it’s much more essential that designers look beyond the design sphere in framing new opportunities for themselves. These are the projects — self-initiated, entrepreneurial, commissioned, bartered, speculative, or otherwise — that I look forward to most.

Second, Justin asked me to offer some advice to designers getting ready to start their own studio. Since I’ve not yet had a chance to write a “top ten” list, I tried my hand at one here:

  1. An untended garden quickly becomes a field: plant what you want to grow.
  2. Have partners, but don’t do the same things: make sure you both do something you enjoy.
  3. Hire people for what they can teach you, not for what you can teach them.
  4. Everyone should be able to take criticism: creative trust is built on critical honesty.
  5. Design is only one part of the puzzle: savor the discussion, development, debate, and dissemination of your work just as much as the making of it.
  6. Goals may be arbitrary, but not having them will be maddening when there’s no one else to tell you if you’re doing a good job: set 3-month, 6-month, and 1-year goals at the outset.
  7. When you take your favorite clients out to lunch, it’s a good time to propose what you’d like to do together next.
  8. Knowing more designers doesn’t necessarily translate into having good clients: spend your development time wisely.
  9. Be known for something: it helps.
  10. You will never work harder than when you’re building something: find balance. Sometimes the best way to solve a creative problem is to take a vacation or read a book.

Read the whole interview here.

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