Student Spotlight: Designers Emerge as Entrepreneurs

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Designers Emerge as Entreperneurs

For many designers and artists (myself included), ‘business’ is not a very attractive word. Some may visualize business as sitting in a cubicle, crunching numbers, or hustling people to sell ideas, products, and services. That image is no longer a reflection of reality. The shift in perspective toward more sustainable actions is taking hold – economically, socially, and environmentally – with business and art holding hands at the forefront.

After spending time at the Lean LaunchPad Educators Seminar in NYC taught by Steve Blank and orchestrated by the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), I realized the untapped abilities designers and artists have to contribute to the business world – not as a designer producing the business person’s vision, but as the designer AND the business person.

With a less traditional approach to business, the Lean LaunchPad and Business Model Generation outline a methodology for taking ideas to market that is based in truly understanding your customer’s needs, quickly testing your ideas in the market, and validating with agile development. Does this sound like good design thinking to anyone else?

Steve Blank, co-creator of this way of approaching start-ups, discussed the things “art knows” already and how entrepreneurs can model this. To summarize, art and design teaches theory and practice together; business should be like this also. Artist already do a ton of practice and surround themselves with other executors, naturally harboring communities and possible partnerships, and entrepreneurs should too. Art and design also have appreciation classes, so even if you’re not an artist, it’s still valuable for you to understand art and design; modern business education needs this too. And finally, “You have to WANT to be an artist. They’ve got drive!” The same goes for a successful entrepreneur; you have got to have passion and drive for your business to be successful.

SO, can we, as designers and artists, make some of the best start-up businesses with our creative way? Hell yes we can, and we should! Shifting how we think about business, our roles in it, and actively learning to be an entrepreneur, can accelerate our ability for a sustainable future through design and business.

MCAD’s Sustainable Design Online Program is grateful for the funding and support received by NCIIA to train future instructors in the Lean Startup practice and to bring an entrepreneurial training course following the Lean LaunchPad methodology into MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program. The course entitled Global Design Challenge is under development and will be offered in Spring 2014.
Stefanie Koehler (article author) has a traditional industrial design background (BS in Industrial Design; Western Michigan University (2009)) but has an inherent desire ‘do more good’ rather than just ‘doing less bad’. Struck by how little she knew about materials and product life cycles, she pursued a MA in Sustainable Design at MCAD. She is one of the first graduates of MCAD’s newly launched MA program (2013).

Stefanie has emerged from the program as a whole-systems thinker and she aims to create solutions that work to regenerate our environmental, cultural, and creative global and local economies. She is also an avid hand-sketcher and visual storyteller who has served as a multidisciplinary designer, strategist, woodworker, dog trainer, and active observer of behavior. Stefanie is forging a non-traditional career path working with small start-up projects, consulting as a biomimicry professional, and dabbling with higher education. Her projects include everything from product and packaging design, to ideas for urban renewal and social entrepreneurship. Contact Stef to join the SolDrop conversation: [email protected]

Learn more about the Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s fully online, 2-year MA in Sustainable Design program designed for busy working professionals. Now accepting applications. Contact us for more information and to have a conversation with the program director, Cindy Gilbert.

Image courtesy of Stefanie Koehler.

Stefanie Koehler

Stefanie Koehler is a designer of things and non-things. As a sustainability-focused human, she aims to create solutions that work to regenerate our environmental, cultural, and creative global and local economies. Trained as a product designer, she also likes to play with the art of not making things, or rather doing smart (not clever) design. Stefanie practices designing with extreme user empathy and leveraging whole systems and service design to realign innovation, business, and natural cycles. Stefanie has a traditional industrial design background (BS in Industrial Design; Western Michigan University (2009)) but has an inherent desire ‘do more good’ rather than just ‘doing less bad’. Struck by how little she knew about materials and product life cycles, she pursued a degree focused on sustainability; she graduated from MCAD with a MA in Sustainable Design in 2013. Stefanie is based in Oregon.