Lessons from Successful Women Design Entrepreneurs
From designing products that we use every day to crafting the tools we need to live a more sustainable life; industrial design is all around us. While this field has traditionally been male-dominated, women are shaking things up and making a name for themselves in the industry. In fact, some of the most innovative and exciting industrial design studios today are run by women! So, grab your sketchbook and let’s take a closer look at some of the badass women who have started their own industrial design studios. Get ready to be inspired!
One of the things that I am curious about is how and why so many women have opened their own practice. I asked a group of successful women design entrepreneurs about what led them to open their own studios.
For Isis Shiffer, founder and design lead, Spitfire Industry in Brooklyn, NY, her love for working with diverse clients and teams from various disciplines was likely a strong motivator for her to start her own studio. By owning her own business, she could have greater control over the types of projects she takes on and the clients she works with. This can be important for individuals who have a passion for a specific type of work or working with certain types of people.
On the other hand, the founder and creative director of Level Design in San Francisco, Nichole Roulliac, had the desire to lead her own studio and bring a new energy and perspective to the design industry that highlights the importance of representation and diversity in the workplace. ‘As a female founder, I saw firsthand how important it was to create a space that not only celebrated diversity but actively sought it out. I wanted to build a company that valued diverse perspectives and ideas, and that actively sought to create a more inclusive industry,’ said Roulliac. This aligns with a larger trend of women starting their own businesses to create more opportunities for themselves and to challenge traditional gender roles and expectations. Both designers recognized the need for a fresh perspective and decided to take the leap to become design entrepreneurs.
Jennifer Linnane’s experience as a successful solo-preneur and industrial designer highlights the benefits of being a freelancer, such as the flexibility to work on a variety of interesting projects and to build a successful business around one’s unique skills. This flexibility and independence can be appealing for many individuals who want to take control of their career and work on projects that align with their values and goals.
However, running a consulting practice or starting a business also comes with its own set of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is finding and securing clients, which often requires developing new skills such as networking, branding, and communicating effectively with clients. As Brittany Gene of Brittany Gene Design points out, scoping projects and learning how to communicate and contract with clients is crucial for success.
Building a strong network of fellow industrial designers and professionals outside of the design industry can also be an important factor in building a successful practice. This can help to provide support, advice, and potential referrals for new projects. It’s important for entrepreneurs to continuously develop new skills and maintain connections with others in their industry to stay up to date with the latest trends and techniques and to keep their business growing.
Overall, while becoming a design entrepreneur can offer many opportunities, it also requires hard work, dedication, consistent and clear communication skills and a willingness to continuously learn and adapt to new challenges.
Jennifer Linnane emphasizes the importance of confidence when it comes to freelancing, as you are essentially presenting yourself as an expert in your field highlighting your ability to partner with your client to deliver results. Additionally, resilience is necessary because not every day will go as planned. This highlights the need for adaptability and the ability to handle challenges and setbacks to succeed as a freelancer or design entrepreneur.
As the founder and principal of Interwoven Design Group, I have found that balancing innovation with practical business requirements and deadlines can be a challenge. Jen Linnane, who shares similar beliefs, argues that innovation and creativity can sometimes conflict with predictability, which is necessary for meeting business requirements, budgets, and deadlines. As a design entrepreneur, having both strong design skills and business acumen is essential for success. Achieving a balance between these two areas is crucial for running a thriving firm.
In summary, while becoming a design entrepreneur can offer many opportunities, it also requires hard work, dedication, consistent and clear communication skills, and a willingness to continuously learn and adapt to a new challenges. Freelancers and design entrepreneurs alike need confidence and resilience, and finding a balance between innovation and practical business requirements is essential for success.
When doing researching for this article, the most common question asked by people who want to open their own firm ask is how to find new clients. The top answer from successful design entrepreneurs was networking. Isia Shiffer explains that 80% of her clients come from word of mouth and repeat business. Jeanette Numbers emphasizes the importance of building authentic connections with people to foster good business relationships and ultimately good projects and Nichole Roulliac expands her network by asking her contacts to connect her with their contacts. Most of the women entrepreneurs I spoke with spend on average 10-12 hours per week expanding their networks and fielding requests for info and proposals.
If you’re considering starting your own practice, this group has some great advice. Jeanette Numbers suggests surrounding yourself with a strong team and having faith in your team members. Brittany Gene advises investing in yourself and the tools you use every day. Nichole Roulliac stresses the importance of perseverance and staying true to yourself. Additionally, having a unique point of view and asking the “whys” rather than just the “hows” is important, according to Numbers.
However, even with a great support network and the right tools, burnout is a common issue among entrepreneurs. Isis Shiffer reminds us that it’s important to take breaks to recharge our brains, and Nichole Roulliac suggests being part of a strong network of allies who can support each other during difficult times.
Jeanette Numbers says “surround yourself with a strong team, have faith in your team members and Keep moving forward”. Brittany Gene adds “invest in yourself and the tools you use every day. It’s so easy to pick a cheaper option when buying tools but it can be the costliest in the long run.” supporting this adds Roulliac is to have perseverance and staying true to yourself. And Numbers goes on to say it’s important to have a unique point of view and strong perseverance, that she thrives on asking the whys, not just the how’s.
But even with setting up a great support network and investing in the right tools and equipment Shiffer adds that “Burnout is common, real, and avoidable. A lot of entrepreneurs have the sense that if they aren’t always working, they’re somehow failing, but this isn’t the case at all. You need to let your brain recharge to be good at any job.”
Roulliac, “Industrial design is a rollercoaster. Like any service industry, from hospitality to retail, there will be a huge, overwhelming rush of work – then a silence while you await the next storm.” “One thing that will help you through is being part of a strong, genuine network of allies who can support one another when times are tough”
Your Future Awaits
So there you have it, folks! From Brooklyn, NY to San Francisco and places in between, these badass women are changing the game in industrial design. They’re not only creating innovative products and solutions, but they’re also challenging the traditional gender roles and expectations in the industry.
Whether you’re thinking of starting your own design studio or just looking to learn more about industrial design, take some inspiration from these women. Remember to network, invest in yourself and your tools, stay true to your unique point of view, and don’t forget to take breaks to recharge!
Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be reading about your success story and how you’ve helped to transform the world of industrial design. So grab your sketchbook, put on some tunes, and let’s get to work!
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