Designers, these entrepreneurs of tomorrow
A new generation of entrepreneurs endowed with a designer culture is beginning to rise, in extremely varied domains: intelligent thermostat (Nest’s Tony Fadell), mail processing programme (Mailbox’s Gentry Underwood), housing booking platform (Airbnb’s Brian Chesky) or washable disposable nappies (Génération Plume’s Florence Hallouin)… And this for one essential reason: the calling, way of thinking and action process of designers concern pragmatic problem solving. Just like entrepreneurs.
However, few designers are really aware of the fact that they are sitting on a goldmine as far as creating economic value is concerned.
As an entrepreneur and a designer myself, I have worked with the CEOs of large companies and SMEs, in Europe, North America and Asia. This was an opportunity for me to realise the degree to which the approaches of designers and traditional entrepreneurs are similar, and to better understand where the specific added values of each one of them can be found.
Entrepreneurs are characterised by three essential features: they have a vision; they execute it; and they correct it.
- - They have a VISION: they aim at an aspirational future state which they compose and refine, thanks to their knowledge and perception of the environment. Their vocation is to change the world at the level of the territory they claim. They are adventurers.
- - They incarnate and carry the EXECUTION of their project through to a successful conclusion. They are perfectly at ease with the crucial operational dimensions of their project. They recruit and federate teams of various cultures and professions, they convince investors, they open concrete markets.... They are action men and bring people together. This is what distinguishes them from theoreticians or ideologists.
- - They practice CORRECTION in permanence and with proper judgement. They know how to persevere in their vision, while permanently adjusting the execution of their strategy. They accept being challenged and know when to change direction to seize arising opportunities.
If I now consider the way in which designers approach their design projects, the difference with entrepreneurs resides essentially in a change of scale. I am going to try to apply these three pillars of entrepreneurship to the working foundations of designers.
A Designer’s VISION: “design the right thing, then design the thing right”
I have already quoted this famous saying by the Design Council, which means that the designer conceives the vision of the “right” thing for his final user, then implements an accurate execution. The designer strives after progress for human beings. His vision is fed by his knowledge of man and his usages, which he learns from human science experts. This vision can be revolutionary, because the designer can be moved by a strong desire for discoveries, unknown paths and curiosity. He is also an adventurer, with his head in the clouds perhaps, but with his feet firmly on the ground. One of the most famous principles of design, which we owe to one of our “grandfathers”, Raymond Loewy, is “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable or MAYA”: a designer is permanently in search of the best compromise between his aspirational vision, and the natural installation capacity of his project in the life of his final user, its acceptability. He does not conceive to keep himself happy, no, he is obsessed by the welfare of his user.
Designers are activists who do not conceive their vision without its EXECUTION
Designers have a deep-rooted and overdeveloped need to “expose”. They iterate in their search, using “pretotypes” – they are monsters made for demonstrations. Archetypal of designers’ approaches, pretotypes have an advantage: they can be placed in the hand of users to be handled as fast as possible. They make it possible to fail quickly and properly, to rectify and advance progressively towards the best solution, without investing money and time in an initial and imperfect approach. Moreover, this “exposing” skill makes it possible to launch beta solutions, so highly prized by shrewd start-ups and large groups.
Without being aware of it, with pretotypes, designers benefit from an incredible federating and management tool! When they show a solution through an image or an object, everyone is allowed to handle it. Each and every person in the company can take a stand in relation to that solution, and adopt it, make it their own, criticise it, make it evolve, transmit it... It is a management tool free from cultures and languages. Pretotypes prevent misunderstandings, as well as situations which are too theoretical or dematerialised.
Moreover, designers naturally know how to dialogue with other professions in and outside the company. They are entirely convinced that they know nothing and are therefore open to others; they are curious about them and respect them. They have the ability to open up to all the different skills within the company, from the finance and marketing people to the technical engineers, logisticians and sellers. They invite, federate and organise people through their “demonstration” skills, their capacity to tell stories that make sense, to do storytelling. In a way, they practice a form of “enculturation” in complex environments.
Designers make of CORRECTION a basic act of their productive process
While among entrepreneurs, adjustments often intervene to correct strategies in reaction to a development in the economic, competitive, legal or internal context, a designer’s approach places challenge and correction at the centre of his productive process, with iteration and resilience as founding elements. External constraints and even unexpected events are included and taken into account from the very beginning already.
Start-ups are full of examples of business model being built up using the “pivot” principle. Twitter, originally a podcast publication application using telephony, reacted to a difficult competitive situation by redefining itself as a microblogging system, with successful results. The company reacted to its model being challenged with an act of (re)creation.
Designers are attentive to internal and external signals, ready to engage and step back at the same time, confident in their decision-making abilities as they go along in their adventure.
Designers and entrepreneurs know that nothing is established, unlike industrialists whose logic relies on the optimisation and durability of a model. In the car industry, car manufacturers have reached the stage of no longer questioning the car object. The robot of the production line is now more intelligent than the car: these manufacturers have lost their entrepreneurial vocation.
Every day I meet designers (young and older) who have in them ferments of entrepreneurship. I assure them that they possess the skills required to embark on the adventure and to discover new territories! Entrepreneurship can breathe life into their project and be the challenge that will set it off. Our economy needs designers!
I am also stimulated by the young entrepreneurs who call me to share their visions of the future, and to expand their entrepreneurial methods with those from design. What a wonderful sign of hope for designers!
Companies have everything to gain in considering “intrapreneurs” who are designers or who come from the culture of design, to help them create a new, accurate and successful company model, which is as close as possible to its users-citizens!