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45 years old here.
I’ve been at it now for about 25 years and I’ve never had a real J O B with one exception.
I took over as the interim CEO for a semi-public company in China earlier this year. Alas, China and working with investors in China was not for me.
I’ve had agencies, founded some companies, raised money for one and exited, and yet, I still find myself continuing to be a designer.
Over the last 5 years, I’ve mostly just been a lone wolf, which I love. I get to peak into businesses and see what works and what fails.
Currently, I’ve co-founded a startup with a small 5-person team, and I have my hands in 3 different Blockchain related projects with decent potential upside.
For myself, I could be out of the game, and I suppose I should be out of the game. Yet, I never tire of design, and I wake up more enthused than the next day to do the work.
I find it very hard to pull myself out of the game.
I’m a constant learner and continue to learn new tools, refine processes and apply those learnings to projects.
Back in the day, I thought VR/ AR was right around the corner and worked tirelessly on data visualization applications for SGI machines.
And now, that is beginning to circle back.
I’ve never found my age to be an issue, if anything, it’s an asset.
I find many are surprised by my age and I never shy away from it.
Should Designers Code
There is the ever-present debate, “should designers code” - well, of course, it doesn’t hurt and if you’re starting out, you should have a basic fluency in code. Conversely, the same way, developers should have a basic fluency in design.
The one thing that has paid dividends over the years, which allows me to insert myself into situations where I can be tied to value, and create a lot of value and command aggressive fees - that one thing is having a strong and sharp level of business acumen.
When I step into a project, I come in as a business analyst who happens to view my contribution through the lens of design.
The stakeholders I collaborate with are most interested in the business contribution I will make to the project. Thus, I tend to work directly with founders, CEOs or with the presidents of a business unit and so on.
I have never thought of my practice of design as a career or job.
There’s nothing wrong with being an employee, and some designers luck out and get in early as an employee on a rocket ship (unlikely for most) -
Yet, in my personal opinion, if you’re going to stay in this game for a long time and hope to hit aggressive earnings, you will have to have a rabid passion for business and serving other people.
More so, you’ll have to have an entrepreneurial mindset.
Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Mindset
The easiest way to cultivate the mindset is to be a hunter and gatherer of information.
I start my day skimming over 500 feeds in Feedly that cover a broad range of topics ranging from finance, crypto, mens fashion, industrial design, startups, energy, transportation, science, political news, industrial design, design, marketing, venture capital, blah, blah, blah.
I’m hunting, gathering and triangulating to explore ideas and to identify trends and opportunities.
What’s happening, why is it happening and is there an opportunity...
Design is Multi-Faceted
The last thing you want to be as a designer is a one note wonder, only thinking about design and failing to recognize and understand the business, human and financial contexts your designs live in.
In fact, I’d say the majority of the time, my practice of design with stakeholders focuses on how it works, and how it serves users and the business case.
We do talk about “how it looks” - yet, my process irons things out in the beginning, so we can focus on the heavy lifting.
Of course, you have to start somewhere and it takes a while to work up to having a seat at the business table.
However, there’s nothing stopping you from launching your own projects to accelerate your learning as well.
Myself, I’m going to keep on keeping on. I love the game of design and business.And I love the idea of contributing to projects that serve other humans.
Great insight Jon, thanks for sharing.
Where the design community meets.
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