Three Steps to Transform Your Passion for Design Into a Sustainable Business

Good design always seeks to solve a problem.

At Madesmith, we meet many designers who are extremely passionate about creating. Many of these designers have even left their day jobs to create entire businesses around their passion. While we find their enthusiasm truly inspiring, we've learned that enthusiasm alone is not enough. The desire to build a business around your own interests is often too inward-looking and it’s not enough to make people consistently open their wallets for what you have to sell. As a result, a design entrepreneur often gets stuck looking at short-term tactics to help their business, while struggling to come up with a sustainable business model.

So, how do you take your passion and create a business around it—one that your customers value? Here are three ways we’ve found that will help.

1. Solve a problem.

Good design always seeks to solve a problem. As an entrepreneur, if you can take your passion for design and channel it into solving a user problem, you have won half the battle. This requires a thorough understanding of an issue, and then designing a product or solution to address it—not the other way around, which can often lead entrepreneurs to dead ends. Creating a business with such a lens will enable a designer to use passion to serve others, but it will also create a product that customers will take notice of. It will be the missing piece that answers: “Why am I in this business?” And, most importantly, “What am I really selling?” The answer to this last question should almost always be "a solution" (not just a product).

2. Test your product.

Once a product is ready, get it in the hands of as many potential customers as you can. Really listen to the feedback and be prepared to tweak it. Also be prepared to discard it completely if need be. A big mistake many entrepreneurs make is becoming emotionally attached to a design or the interim product. Always remember that the design exists to solve a problem, and not for the sake of its own existence. Also, remember that a design is only as good as the problem it solves. Learning to separate emotions from prototypes helps to create better solutions.

3. Innovate.

After you have found the right market for your product, keep making it better. You have to keep innovating or your business can get stale very quickly. Innovation is also the key to staying ahead of your competition and keeps your customers coming back for more. As a designer, you can keep your business in forward momentum by coming up with new designs that solve an older problem in a better way than before; by introducing complementary products; or by solving new—larger problems.

By consistently and carefully following these three steps, you can change the vision of your business from being propelled by your own interests to creating a value-driven exchange that’s fueled by your passion. Your business will attract people who will keep coming back, not just to connect with the product (which usually has a limited lifespan of its own). Instead, they'll come back for something even bigger: the purpose of your business.