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Starting A Business Is The Ultimate Design Challenge

I'm a big proponent of the Design Thinking / Human Centered Design framework. For those who aren't familiar with it: it's essentially taking the principles that the best designers use to create world class products, and applying it to larger scale problems.

If we take this type of thinking to its logical conclusion, what is the most complex problem you can undertake? I'd say it's starting a business.

What is a business? The word is so overused that we need to settle on a definition for this essay. I like Elon Musk's definition:

"All a company is, is a bunch of people together to create a product or service. There's no such thing as a business, just pursuit of a goal — a group of people pursuing a goal."

Now think about what it entails, to get a bunch of people to come together and work full-time to pursue a goal:

  • The people you're working with need to be motivated to work on this joint goal, but they also have their own interests and agendas. So you need to be able to create an overlap between business interests and the collaborator's interests. The larger that overlap, the more committed they will be
  • You've got a bunch of limited resources: time, energy, money, etc, that you need to manage carefully
  • You get to do a ton of research into the people you're serving
  • You get to make things. You maybe even get to design a UI, or produce a video
  • You are directly impacting lives, by providing for the livelihood of the people working with you, as well as the people who use what you all are making
  • And if you do it right, you get to work on meaningful, impactful things.

For any designer that enjoys solving tough problems, I don't see how they can't get excited at the thought of working on something so juicy. It's hugely complex, it involves all moving parts you could ever think of, it connects you to people, it's everything.

Designers could have so much more impact in the world, if they stepped away from their computers and drawings for a second and saw the bigger picture of what design thinking can accomplish. Learn about business but see it through a design lens, and we can reallychange the world.

There's a lot of overlap between design thinking and business thinking. What makes the design thinking approach more evolved, is that world-class designers have more empathy and are more inwardly focused, than some MBA who's read a few articles about authenticity. I've yet to meet a truly great designer who wasn't very connected to themselves and the world around them. This leads us to be better leaders who focus on problems more holistically — if we step up to the challenge.

If you're one of the designers who this doesn't resonate with, and you just feel called to design great microinteractions and gorgeous products all day, and be left alone otherwise, that's great too. We need those highly specialized people. But I've met a lot of designers where I get the sense that they're hiding behind that computer screen, because pushing themselves to their greater potential is too unknown, too uncomfortable, too scary.

Published by: Jamal Nichols in Brands

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