Is Entrepreneurship Spec Work?

Solving Business Problems with Design

When most people think of “designers” they think of the visual aspect of design: colors, shapes, textures, photographs, effects, logos, fonts, and so on. Then they think of the different mediums we use: business cards, letterheads, posters, t-shirts, advertisements, packaging, e-mails, websites, mobile apps, and so on.

But is this really the value of what the design community has to offer – visual communications? What about the creative process as a whole? Or our sensitivity to the psychology of influence and persuasion; our empathy for the social experiences in which our designs are used and the outcomes we’re trying to create; this broader potential that we all have to solve big business problems with “design thinking” – is that what we need to be communicating?

Is creating a product, service or experience the role of the designer?

Many in the business world would argue this is more a function of marketing, research or an MBA, but isn’t this essentially what companies like Apple, Adobe and Behance have done, design businesses to help solve problems for designers?

  • Apple designed a personal computing experience across multiple screens to help millions of people create, store and communicate ideas.
  • Adobe designed a suite of software products to help millions of creative people.
  • Behance designed a product, experience and community as software, as a service to connect millions of people to designers around the world.

Are these two teachers-turned-entrepreneurs designers?

Now consider if you will, two special needs teachers who saw a big problem with their ability to track student information. Before they launched Do the Data, it was a mess of paperwork and inaccuracies and inefficiency. So they designed a solution and brought it to market in 2011 at Triangle Startup Weekend.

Do the Data Solves Problems for Teachers

They designed a solution, and they did it on spec, just like Apple, Adobe and Behance, with they expectation that solving this problem would pay off in the long run by helping a lot of their professional peers.

So is Entrepreneurship Just Design Spec Work?

Entrepreneurship reminds me of what we call “spec work” in the design community, a familiar conversation “they want me to build them a free website” in the developer community, or the common “they’re just looking for free ideas” in the advertising and marketing community.

And while those kinds of requests typically fall flat in our respective organizations, there’s no arguing that right now, entrepreneurship is king. And there’s no question that we need entrepreneurs to create jobs for all of us at some point or another.

So thankfully hundreds of people in our own community are coming together for one weekend, to launch the products, services and experiences that solve really big problems or create big ideas for the world. That, in a nutshell is Triangle Startup Weekend, and there is a special track for designers if you want to come launch your own big idea and have a team of people form around you, or maybe just design the user experience for the next Behance.

What Should I Do Next?

There are so many ways to participate, you can come with an idea, hear the ideas and join a team, or even just stop by on any of the days to see the action unfold live. There are special tickets for designers, and you can even just volunteer to help out a team on Saturday, or by an individual ticket for each day if you’re not sure about the whole weekend.

The event is being held at the NC State Centennial Campus Friday April 13 at 6:00pm – Sunday April 15 at 4:00pm,

The different types of tickets and more information are available here

You can also help by promoting the event to your friends and colleagues by going to and clicking the share buttons in the right sidebar.

And follow the conversation on Twitter at or hashtag #TSW2012

Arik Abel is the VP, Digital @FWV_US. He is an arbiter of innovation and design thinking, an improviser, creator, teacher & life-long learner, and a digital & word-of-mouth marketing strategist.

By Arik Abel
Published April 8, 2012