Where are the entrepreneurial designers?

I know plenty of developers, and plenty of designers. Apart from the obvious technical/creative divide, something else seems to separate the two. Developers seem far more likely to want to get involved in a project with no promises and no money. The idea of creating a product, totally unpaid, with the possibility of turning it into a business, seems to be much more appealing to developers than for designers. I know this sounds like a sweeping statement and there are exceptions, but on the whole this a common observation of mine.

This is evident to me on two counts. Firstly, when asking designer friends if they want to get involved in a harebrained scheme, the usual response is that they would prefer to be paid for their time than be given equity in a non-existent business, or just ‘see where it goes‘. Secondly, when attending networking events I usually find that design/creative is the least represented skill-set in the room. Granted, I go to mainly tech-focused events, but that in itself points to a stigma that ‘digital‘ is a purely technical arena. It isn’t.

Creating a prototype product requires multiple skills. If you are a great developer and also a brilliant graphic designer, UI, UX, branding and marketing expert, etc.. then good for you. However, most of us find that our talents lie in a small subset of these skills, which means that creating a launchable product requires teaming up. That’s only achievable on a zero budget if you can get the whole team on board.

One may argue that a functional product that looks terrible is better than a non-functional product that looks beautiful. That may be the case for privately demonstrating a prototype to investors or business partners, but if your approach is to launch directly to the public, even your minimum viable product needs to look good; it does need to offer an intuitive user experience, and it does need a brand.

So why is it that designers are harder to get on board a self-funded project? My theory is that creatives involved in startups don’t have such a high profile as the rock star developers of Silicon Valley; they don’t get nearly as much credit. I could tell you the name of the lead developer at Foursquare, but I have no idea who does their branding and design. Developers look at the founders of these successful startups and aspire to achieving the same goals. I’m not so sure designers see so much of themselves in those role models.

Please tell me I’m wrong. If you are an entrepreneurial designer looking to team up with developers and build something cool, raise your hand and get involved. Come along to Freelance Friday – it’s a meet-up I’m organising to get people with different skill-sets networking. The first event is November 19th at The Reliance, Old Street. Follow LDNFreelance on Twitter, and ask to join the Facebook Group to RSVP for the event.