The Designer as Entrepreneur

Today’s designer hardly needs to be told that the discipline of design is rapidly evolving. But how many designers today consider themselves entrepreneurs?

If you have not considered the possibility, you should, according to a revealing and insightful webinar presented May 18 by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico, co-chairs of the MFA Design (Designer as Author/Entrepreneur) program at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

“The role of graphic design has evolved from one of problem solving. Today’s designer is definitely becoming more of an entrepreneur,” said Talarico, who with Heller is a co-founder of the school’s MFA Design program. “Our goal in the MFA program is to educate designers so they are prepared to serve both clients and their own creative voices.”

With increasingly sophisticated production and distribution tools continuing to reach the desktops of designers, noted Heller, design entrepreneurship is quickly expanding as part of the graphic design practice.

“Students in our program are geared to be entrepreneurs and their work involves projects that are seen as viable both in the marketplace and for the person doing the design work,” said Heller, author and editor of over 130 books on graphic design, satiric art and popular culture.

Heller and Talarico are also co-authors of the book The Design Entrepreneur  – Turning Graphic Design into Goods That Sell” and their presentation featured a fascinating array of successful student projects that clearly demonstrate the concept of design entrepreneurship.

A key to success, they emphasized, is identifying a need in the commercial marketplace and then meeting that need with an innovative and practical design.

“Be sure that your design has an audience in the marketplace.  You need to fill a real need that exists in the market – so know what the audience will be for your design,” commented Talarico.

Among the many interesting examples presented was one MFA design student’s thesis project focusing on prescription drug bottles in the U.S. market – and how confusing they are for consumers trying to make sense of jumbled, text-heavy labels lacking standards for typographic elements and overall design.

“The student took the typography of prescription labels and cleaned it up – which is really what designers are supposed to do,” said Heller. “She developed a prototype for color-coded, more readable, user-friendly prescription bottle labeling. She basically replaced the one-size-fits-all approach to labeling. And she sold her concept to retailing giant Target, which did a major roll out to consumers.”

That is an excellent example of entrepreneurship, he added. “A designer saw a need in the marketplace, filled the need and then sold the design to someone who can make the best use of it.”

The session concluded with advice on how to succeed on the path of entrepreneurship today.

“There are many ways to be a design entrepreneur,” said Talarico. “The best advice we can give if you want to bring something to the market is that, even though there are many rigors and processes and challenges involved, don’t give up! Just keep at it. If you have a really good idea, do your homework and get the idea out there to your intended audience.”

Added Heller: “There are so many media available today to help you be entrepreneurial. A key aspect for success is having an audience for what you are bringing to the market. But you also need the ability to take a risk, because being an entrepreneur is not the safest thing to pursue. You are putting yourself and your ideas on the line, so it requires a certain amount of courage to take a risk.”

Designers should also begin to pay attention to how their works are measured and how people are interacting with the content they generate. Tools such as Omniture can provide in-depth web analytics to enterprises. Having a sound understanding of these measurements can help guide clients to make insightful decisions and better demonstrate the value of the design in which they invested.

More information on design entrepreneurship and the School of Visual Arts is available at online.

By Mark Nusca for Adobe Systems


About rgddesignthinkers

The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (RGD) is the professional body for graphic designers in Ontario. RGD grants graphic designers who qualify the right to use the designations Registered Graphic Designer and R.G.D., a quality signal of standards of professional practice. RGD has approximately 2800 members. Attracting over 1,000 participants and a full line-up of fascinating speakers, DesignThinkers is Canada’s largest, most important graphic design event. It’s an occasion to listen, learn and interact with peers from across the country.
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