There are people out there doing everything they can to help designers make the transition to being a founder, a co-founder, or just to help them meet the right people.
Josh Brewer wanted to be an art teacher. He graduated college with a History degree, moved to San Diego in the early two-thousands, and began teaching elementary school. He started teaching kids how to use computers and soon realized that he was also teaching the teachers how to use them. He said, “It was eye-opening. I always look back to that experience as one of my very first moments of understanding the user experience.” He freelanced, taught, and soon decided that he wanted to do more with his UX skills than build brochure websites. So, he got involved in startups. He worked for a few—Slacker Personal Radio and SuggestionBox—but it was at Socialcast, a collaboration platform, that he realized the importance of engaging design at every point of a product’s build. Socialcast was eventually sold to VMware, and Josh said, “I realized I was part of creating something that people found a lot of value in, and not just monetarily. I knew from talking to our customers, the huge impact the service had on transforming their businesses.”
Josh is now Principal Designer at Twitter. Our first introduction to Josh reaches back before Twitter, to 2010 when we followed his project 52 Weeks of UX—a resource that he co-created to provide “discourse on the process of designing for real people.” Josh partnered with his friend Josh Porter with a simple goal: to “release tangible, digestible lessons that people could walk away from every week and immediately apply them to their jobs.” He said, “If this resource had existed when I was just getting going I would have devoured it. But it didn’t…so, I created one. The whole purpose of it really was to give back.” Josh now continues his role as a teacher, and a leader at Twitter. We asked him what it takes for a designer to thrive in a startup environment.
Without hesitation he replied: “You have to be self-motivated. You have to be willing to stretch and take on stuff that you may not normally do. You need to be open and have the ability to learn quickly. The reality is, in the startup world, you’re going to be doing 10 different things. That’s just how it is. That can be taxing, and you have to be vigilant about making sure that you keep a balance, but I also think that it makes you a better designer. It stretches you in ways that you maybe wouldn’t traditionally stretch yourself.”
Josh offered some advice to young design entrepreneurs. He told us, “There’s so much work out there. Period. Whether it’s in client services or a hybrid approach. I know a number of people who opened their own studio with one or two other people, started doing client work, and as soon as they got a little bit of positive cash flow they started pushing that toward a product idea they had. I’ve seen that over and over again, and I think that’s super healthy.”
To close, some encouraging thoughts from Josh on getting started. He said: “There are people out there doing everything they can to help designers make the transition to being a founder, a co-founder, or just to help them meet the right people. Enrique Allen at The Designer Fund is one example. That said—the internet. Straight up. I could list a half-dozen people off the top of my head that are 25 and younger that went from nowhere to being fairly well-known, and somewhat regarded, because they use the internet correctly.”
We told him that Twitter is pretty beneficial in that regard…he said, “Amazingly!”
We think the door is wide open for designers with entrepreneurial ambitions. Seek out collaborators, use the internet correctly, and you could be well on your way to founding a successful product.
We have much more to share on Josh’s role at Twitter, his thoughts on the importance of writing, and why we should invest in the design community—but we’ll save it for the book. This is the internet remember. You probably don’t want to read 3000 words.