To make a living as designers, we must do the "dirty work" of a service business: marketing, advertising, courting clients, devising proposals, contracts and accounting, chasing unpaid bills, keeping people happy even when we don't agree...
So many famous designers – think Michael Bierut, Virgil Abloh, Dieter Rams, Jony Ive, Diane von Fürstenberg... – owe their success not to talent alone, but to mastering the business and social worlds around them.
Designers who create fashion, cars, and architecture perhaps still have to navigate more traditional worlds. But those of us creating digital products, able to work remotely, have been exploring new approaches to selling and managing projects in a "decentralized" fashion.
This week's roundup presents 6 companies and communities who are exploring new paradigms for design business. Ranging from one-man shops to multi-national operations, these businesses are sure to inspire creative entrepreneurs.
Brett Williams' subscription service DesignJoy brings in more than a million dollars per year with no employees and no meetings.
Sounds too good to be true? Brett's climb to where he is now hasn't been easy. To get away from mundane frustrations, he took on risks of over-commitment, burnout, and unsatisfied customers. But Brett has been continuously improving, while sharing lessons learned on Twitter, Indie Hackers, and numerous podcast interviews – a treasury of ideas for designers looking to innovate on their business model.
For serious clients who need a full-service solution, Superside offers a global-scale "design ops" platform spanning brand, marketing, merch, and more.
Superside have come a long way from juggling random tasks for clients in their early days, to leading a global network of 750+ creatives. Check out interviews with CEO Fredrik Thomassen on Transformify, Midstage Institute, and Collaboration Superpowers for the whole story.
We mentioned VectorDAO in our UX Designer's Guide to NFTs, and their innovative approach to running a design collective deserves a closer look.
VectorDAO is an exercise in new possibilities for aligning incentives between the designer and the client, as well as in rethinking how compensation works.
Focused on Web3 projects, this organization of around 100 people is led by senior professionals who assemble constellations of creatives to deliver client projects. The DAO is paid in different cryptocurrencies and tokens from each project, pooled together in a treasury. Individual contributors are compensated from this diverse treasury, rather than specific tokens from each project, reducing the currency risk that troubles many Web3 builders.
VectorDAO's founders have told their story on their own blog, as well as numerous podcast interviews.
Stellar aims to be the go-to platform for high-caliber creative talent. The work on display speaks for itself.
Perhaps no-one is better suited for the job of creating such a platform than founder Nick Pattison, an industry veteran who cut his teeth working for legends like Milton Glaser himself, as well as Michael Gericke and Paula Scher at Pentagram. If you're half as well-connected as he is, a curated talent directory might be worth thinking about.
Neol is building a decentralized talent marketplace for innovation and creative work, focused on projects with beyond-commercial impact.
Like Stellar, Neol's secret sauce is the team's connections: The founders are alumni of Turkish design powerhouse ATÖLYE, part of the Kyu Collective alongside legends like IDEO, Godfrey Dadich, and Sid Lee.
Like Superside, Design Pickle runs a global operation with more than 500 employees. The difference is how they laser-focus on graphics only, making them an affordable choice for smaller clients.
Founder Russ Perry has shared his story on countless interviews, including The Startup Story, Authority Magazine, and Leveling Up – tune in to find out how it's done.
These players haven't left the same kind of paper trail like our contenders above. But they still set an example with effective value propositions and streamlining the process of booking that all-important first call.
If you're building a modern design business for yourself, have a look and be inspired:
- Fairpixels – UI & UX design service for B2B SaaS
- Flow Sparrow – Webflow development for startups
- Goodtime – no-code design agency
- SprintPage – creative-included B2B marketing and growth sprints