Relatively few UX designers go on to start their own design agencies. Many more work as part of teams or freelance for their whole careers. So when a UX designer is able to also become a successful entrepreneur, it’s a big deal.
The reality is that designers don’t always get exposed to the business savvy skills they need to run their own agencies.
We talked to UX designer Matt Faulk, who runs BASIC Agency, about how designers can transition into becoming successful business people, as well.
As a designer first, how did you develop your business skills?
Throughout my experience as a designer, I really stayed focused on what I felt mattered most — solving business problems and finding ways to delight the audience. To me, in order to be a good designer, you need to have a strong business mindset. I think this thinking is what enabled me to make the transition from designer to agency owner as I was always focused on the business aspect of what I do.
Prior to starting my agency, I was freelancing a lot. And in order to get my ideas sold through, as well as build a client base, I had to think about the business aspect of things. To do this, I read a lot, and I mean a lot. Books on branding, business, strategy, as well as design. I also networked and spent a lot of time having conversations with people I felt I could learn from.
As I developed my skills, the transition began to take form naturally. I started getting more clients, was forming connections with people I could collaborate with, and had the confidence to take the risks necessary to build something special.
How did you make the jump from freelance UX designer to full-time entrepreneur?
My journey from designer to business man really came from my passion for both design and business and a relentless pursuit to build something special. I’ve always felt I was a good designer, but knew I was a better leader. As I’ve built my company, I’ve stayed focused on doing small things well, much like you would do when designing a website or an app. Along with that, when people ask me what it’s been like making the transition, I like to mention that I don’t feel like I’ve stopped designing — I’m just designing something different now. I’m designing a business.
UX designers aren’t necessarily taught business skills when they’re in school. What’s your advice to UX designers who want to become successful entrepreneurs?
I do feel it is a shame that designers aren’t taught business in school, but they can make it happen on their own and it will be a huge differentiator in their career. I strongly recommend that they read, listen, network, and study up on brand. They should also understand more than just the user journey, but what goes into the overall consumer/brand experience.
Starting and running a business isn’t for everyone, but anyone can start one. I think one important thing to stress is this — whether you’re running your own business or working for one, you still need to consider yourself a business person. If you do, you will go much further in your career as a result of the skills learned and the professionalism gained that come from it.
What have your guiding principles as a UX designer been?
When I approach design, I really focus on simplifying things as much as possible, without losing sight of the importance of emotion as it relates to experience. It’s important to note that simplicity doesn’t mean stale or watered down.
Simplicity is achieved when two key things come together: clarity and surprise. To bring these elements requires taking the time and effort to know an audience well enough to understand just how much information they need — clarity — and then delivering it in a way that is truly fresh — surprise. Combining these two elements allows a brand and the experience the consumer is having with it to appeal both logically and emotionally.
What are some of the core business skills that UX designers must develop today to become successful?
I feel that to be a successful UX designer in today’s digital economy, you need to have a deep understanding for how people behave and what’s happening in culture. Knowledge in psychology, business, community, experience design, and brand will go far.
Here are a few resources I feel can help any designer looking to achieve new skills and knowledge:
- High Resolution Podcast — An amazing video podcast series with some of the most talented minds in business design.
- This AIGA Talk by my good friend Bobby Ghohsal stresses the importance of design and business.
- HBR Blog — Amazing articles on a wide range of business topics, including experience.
- BrandBeats Podcast — A podcast series our team at BASIC put together speaking on a wide range of topics, including a curated mix of music to keep you moving forward.