Startups Design

Why designers are the founders of the future

By Sveinung Skaalnes, research and development

January 29, 2016 | 5 min read

We live in the age of the entrepreneur. Through technology and modern media, it’s never been easier for an individual with vision to build a company and 'change the world'.

Sveinung Skaalnes

Founding a business and being your own boss has never been more attractive or accessible.

But as more people see entrepreneurship as a lifestyle to pursue, there’s one group who I believe are the ideal founders of the future but aren't always aware of their potential: designers.

This 'minority' group possess the skillset and mindset that would be the envy of most would-be founders. Here is why we need to find a way to coax them into the limelight.

A design for life

Last year at Hyper Island, in collaboration with Google, we ran '30 Weeks', a course built to turn designers into founders. What was so fascinating wasn’t that the project was a massive success – with over $1.6m raised by the startups before the end of the pilot; the twist was that nobody who participated in the course had applied for it in the first place.

Many on 30 Weeks had been put forward by others in the tech, business and design community. Organisers asked people to nominate individuals they felt had it in them to be founder but did not necessarily realise it themselves.

Designers possess a knack for seeing 10 steps ahead and have the empathy and passion to solve problems while also creating value. In other words, they don't just tick off many of the boxes we associate with being a founder, they excel at them.

But as most designers don't come from a business background they tend to collaborate or follow, rather than lead. That is everyone's loss.

The case for design

Designers are problem solvers. They aren't just looking to solve a problem because there may be a gap in the market, they want to find a solution because that desire is an instinctive part of their personality. It's almost an obsession.

Channeled correctly, that desire is an invaluable trait for a founder. Because it means the product or service they are creating is built to last, built for the long-term. It isn’t about making a quick buck, but about building something permanent.

Designers' constant questioning and obsession with perfection also means that they will always be looking to improve and refine their product – even after a product enjoys commercial success.

A designer is less likely to stay loyal to what has already succeeded. They are prepared to move with new developments or trends. Good designers don't ask what worked before, they ask what will work in the future. That's the perfect ethos for a founder.

If at first you don’t succeed, design, design and design again

A mantra that is (rightly) repeated in the founder community is that failure is not something to be scared of, but something to embrace. For many 'natural' entrepreneurs (as well as investors), this is something that sounds good in theory, but isn't always stuck to in practice when a project hits a roadblock or a deadline.

But designers, by their very nature, embody the startup mentality of being prepared to try things, iterate and then start all over again if it doesn’t work.

They have an understanding and empathy that encourages a team culture of trying new things and not fearing mistakes or what others would see as failure. When new paths open up they explore them, rather than ignore them. Designers like to leave the comfort zone which is how success is so often found.

We found at 30 Weeks that the humility that comes with this mindset helps build teams because designers are excellent at winning over collaborators and bringing together groups with a diverse and wide-ranging skillset.

This enables them to work in harmony with creative minds and bring the best out of them as they appreciate what everyone can bring to the table.

Designers know the true value of the small details. Something many more business minded founders often don’t.

A design for the future

The speed at which technology evolves and trends change means the founder of tomorrow must be more agile, flexible and proactive than their predecessors.

What thrives today may not be needed later. The tech that drives us now may be obsolete tomorrow. Designers have the agility and creativity to address these challenges embedded in their DNA.

If you were designing the perfect founder, what better starting point to work from than a designer?

Sveinung Skaalnes works in research and development at Hyper Island and is a founding director of 30 Weeks

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