Core Characteristics, Ethics and Theory


In this weeks lecture we looked at the ways designers can become authors of their own products and put theory into practice within a demonstrative business construct with the goal being to become self starting and self sustaining entrepreneurs. Ultimately the purpose of this is to solve a specific problem by making something work more effectively or to fill a gap with an ownable marketable product of your own. The product (or artefact) a designer produces usually aligns with their personal practice taking into consideration environmental insights and social need. It can also potentially provide the designer with an additional revenue stream.

In following the lectures some similarities in the designer/entrepreneurs emerged in that their interests lay in various disciplines and fields, not wishing to specialise or commit to doing one thing. In other words they were willing to explore all possibilities, take risks and accept failure as part of the journey towards becoming a designer, business owner and entrepreneur. For instance Robin Howie (Fieldwork) wanted to create his own job, designing for the unknown, with innovation at the core of his practice. John (Sinx) Sinclair (UsTwo) admitted to a certain naive approach in finding agencies restrictive and closed to the idea of the designer as artist. From a practical, agency perspective designers are generally not seen as artists but have a functional role to play within an organisation so I can see where the conflict lay here. Having said this, in building their own practices, both designer/entrepreneurs have constructed their business models in a way which enables them to continue pushing boundaries, exploring possibilities and innovating; Robin's being experiential and John's Digital.

Both approaches do not take from the daily concerns of design business practice but enhance it. They bring their experimental practice into the daily workspace which gives both designer/entrepreneurs the ability to create bespoke solutions that provide unique offerings to their client base. However, gaining this level of creative was hard won over time. Both Robin and John talk of cash flow being a barrier when starting out as it restricted investment into the bigger vision they both had for their businesses that would afford them the ability to create their own opportunities. Equally, they talk of a collaborative process that has informed the direction of their business, building trust and valued client relationships which eventually has lead to success and financial reward. This in turn has enabled them to create work that has more of a positive societal impact and the processes have become streamlined to become more effective. In other words, being able to scale has made a difference.

Similarly, Sophie Hawkins brings to her practice a wealth of experience as a tailor with a business construct that pivots on two key pillars: the first being to work in a sustainable way and the second to focus on the creation of clothing for tradespeople. Her philosophy comes out of a reaction to fast fashion and her materials are made from upcycling processes. She works with a trusted team of collaborators and is not precious about handing over control to her team to conserve time she could be spending elsewhere on the business.

How would you highlight the core pillars of success for your business? (TAKE OUTS)
— Clear communication of the business offering/identity
— Clear values
— Experimentation and Innovation
— Collaborative process with people of all skillsets/professions
— Extended network of valued clients, collaborators and colleagues
— Long term relationship building
— Financial security
— Ethics: Social and sustainable environmental practice
— Making things work better and leaving the world a better place

How do you balance risk and planning, with future ambition? (TAKE OUTS)
— Financial security enables you the freedom to take risks, innovate and experiment and realise your ambitions
— However, innovation and risk can lead to you getting noticed early on
— Build your ambition/vision into a client brief through innovation (making something work better) and through craft and finish
— Be willing to let go of the rains to a trusted team member from time to time
— Self promote: Use stories from your networks, connect your own stories to your brand, create monthly newsletters


WIRED: Designers make great entrepreneurs, they just don't now it yet. (
Medium: What is design entreprenueurship? (
Ellen Lupton: Designer as producer (
Mäkelä: Knowing through making. The role of the artefact in practice led research

In the Wired article 'Designers make great entrepreneurs…' they assert that technological advances have enabled designers the freedom to move into the product making space as designer founders. However, at the time of publication (2013) there were still only a small proportion of designers moving into this space (15%) even though the demand for designer founders was high. Similarly, Ellen Lupton asserts that the role of design as author/artist is limited by their inability to step back from the designer as artist mentality and view the creation of products instead from a founder/producer perspective. One insight that comes across in all of the material provided is the inherent difference between the designer as artist and the designer as founder/producer and entrepreneur. The key distinction being that an entrepreneur will not necessarily limit their thinking to one field of expertise or focus in too early on the details and craft of making. Wired asserts that they figure things out as the go, iterate and problem solve. They find what the market wants servicing customers, teams and investors. Ellen Lupton imparts that designers need to think beyond the printed page and become masters of technology. She also intimates that an artefact must be seen and as Medium state: have social, ethical and political criteria playing a central role. In short, the designer should not always act out of their own individual interests. Having said this, the designer founder will ultimately define the problem/need themselves. Entrepreneurs focus less on the details but are successful in areas such as the building of partnerships, fundraising, building collaborative teams, project management and product development. Design founders need to understand this space in order to move into the role of designer as producer and entrepreneur. The designer founder/ entrepreneur also has to gain an understanding of how the artefact itself will be manufactured and as such have knowledge of IP, technical processes, materials and ultimately how distribution channels work.

So what form should an artefact or product take? What is the specific problem you are solving? Who is it for and where will it be seen? In knowing through making (Mäkelä) the role research can play in imparting new knowledge or even change the way the research is conducted. An artefact/product should present itself as an answer to a particular research question or problem, have meaning and purpose: telling the story it embodies and support the theoretical context that it is placed in. What is its ethical, social, political or environmental construct?

From an ethical standpoint Robin Howie, Sinx and Sophie Hawkins all agree that you should have ethical values that at at the core of your practice and these in turn will inform your decision making and research. For Robin it is summed up in his 'design for citizenship' - leaving the world in a better place than you found it. For John it is specific problem solving in making something work better whereas Sophie's core beliefs come from her environmental concerns, a reaction to fast fashion and the implementation of eco science and upcycling in order to create her unique outputs.


Workshop Challenge:

Create an information graphic, or diagram, or animation that, for you, highlights the effective definition and process of a being a design entrepreneur today.

A designer producer/entreprenuer is a self starting big picture ideator who looks to answer a specific question that may add benefit to their daily practice within the construct of the self initiated. The business construct can take on ethnographic, ethical, social or environmental concerns or the authorship of the work can purely be an extension of their practice that highlights an insight and their expertise. They do not focus on the small details initially but think broadly about the question or problem to be solved. They are also initially risk averse. By unpacking the target audience through research, insights they unlock ways to iterate their answer to the problem into existence. To make the 'artefact' a reality they bring together trusted partners, collaborators, fundraise, ideate, design, prototype and manufacture. I believe it is also important to try to measure a projects success or failure.


Discuss the pros and cons of how risk, failure and innovation is built into a model for business success:
After studying and researching the role of the design producer/entrepreneur it is clear to me that being to a certain extent risk averse is actually a good thing for an entrepreneur to have an expansive view of the question or problem to be solved. It's this risk that produces new approaches new ways of ideating and thinking about a problem before making any final adjustments that refine your product or artefact and failing is also part of this process. Failure is also a positive as it pushes us to refine our thinking and find answers. The only downside I see to risk and failure is that time and potentially finance can be limited while you develop the 'artefact' which will impact on your ability to deliver the finished article. Through research and gaining insights and in the ideation process innovative solutions should present themselves. I agree with Sinx that the key to innovating in an entrepreneurial way is to find a way to make something work better. I.E: How does it work and function as a finished piece? What are its ultimate benefits to your audience. This can take the form of either a clever thought process or something clever within the artefact itself.

What is the impact of different cultural insights with regard to opportunity and potential?
I think this depends on who the 'artefact' is for. It could be inclusive, social, political, environmental. It depends largely on the end user or viewer.