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Design and Entrepreneurship

Design is intention, a goal. Likewise, entrepreneurship.


One of my students, an accomplished Irish designer, delivered a stunning presentation during our entrepreneurship class last summer. The experience jolted me. How had he done that?

Clearly it had something to do with the mysterious process called design, and I suddenly realized that my own presentations were, in terms of visual thinking, stuck in the dark ages.

Like most business school teachers, I’d tacitly bought into the deeply faulted notion that when an instructor 1) makes a verbal statement, then 2) shows a PowerPoint bullet of that same statement, what magically results is 3) permanent imprinting of the point upon listener minds.

This widely accepted 1-2-3 PowerPoint fiction is a prime example of wishful thinking. It ignores stark fact: Listeners are far more powerfully moved by visuals than by text (and they remember them better, too).

Just as I was reeling from my PowerPoint epiphany, a friend told me about Presentation Zen founder/writer Garr Reynolds, a tried-and-true Japanophile who, unbeknownst to me, had bought my second book, The Swordless Samurai. I grabbed a copy of Presentation Zen — an extraordinary work — and completely overhauled my entire approach to presentations. I (and my students) remain humbly in Garr’s debt.

I was struck anew by the mystery of design a few weeks ago on a visit to Japan. Though I hardly understand design’s most basic principles, over dinner with Garr in his hometown of Osaka, I grew more convinced than ever that design is deeply connected to entrepreneurship.Garr_and_Tim_200906

Design / di’zín / n. & v. • n. … 3 a plan, purpose, or intention

This I know: Design is intention, a goal. Likewise, entrepreneurship. As my students constantly hear, entrepreneurial action always resolves to a simple question: What is your goal?

Shortly after the Japan trip I found myself in Amsterdam, again marveling at the mystery of design, this time how it’s brilliantly woven into the fabric of everyday life in the Netherlands. I love the way Dutch design shows you what to do without words, or even diagrams.

toilet_buttons_in_AmsterdamTake these toilet buttons, for example. Depending on your own, er, output, you know immediately which one to push.

Look at this transaction counter at the Amsterdam Centraal train station. No need for signs, numbered tickets, or obsequious “assistants” to inform you of your turn. When the floor sparkles, you immediately know what to do.

That’s good design. And somehow, that’s entrepreneurship.


You may also enjoy:

Why Businesspeople Speak Like Idiots

Secrets of Creative Longevity from Steinbeck, Rilke, and Woody Allen

Entrepreneurship: A Primer

4 Comments to Design and Entrepreneurship

On Jul 3, 2009, Design | Mindshare Marketing commented:

[…] Here’s a great article from Soul Shelter that talks a bit more about the benefits of good design in business: Design and Entrepreneurship […]

On Jul 29, 2009, Kara commented:

Thank you for the great article on Garr Reynolds’ work. Did you know that he just recently released Presentation Zen: The Video? More information can be found here:


On Jul 30, 2009, by Tim commented:

Thanks, Kara, I sure did. Terrific stuff!

On Apr 29, 2010, Design | Mindshare Strategy commented:

[…] Here’s a great article from Soul Shelter that talks a bit more about the benefits of good design in business: Design and Entrepreneurship […]

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