The Designer-preneur

lukas-travel-for-online_201x162In this week’s news from GOOD, one of my favourite sites:

Lukas [an interactive web designer-developer] is travelling the world, exchanging his online work for things people can teach him: What would you want to teach him?

This fantastic initiative reminded me of someone I met in one of my travels.

Greece Corfu AlleywayA couple of years ago, while travelling in Europe, at a hotel in Corfu (Greece), we met this guy who used to work as a web designer in New York. He had what would be considered a dream job for many young designers: he was employed at an ad agency in Manhattan and had the opportunity to work on some globally recognizable brands. However, after a few years of grind he was hit by the proverbial late twenties existential crisis. Long story short, he quit his sexy NYC designer job, packed his bags, and bought a one-way ticket to Europe. He would stay in one town indefinitely, and when he got tired he’d buy a train (or ferry) one-way ticket to another town, perhaps cross the border even to the next European country. When we met him in that Greek island he had been living such nomadic lifestyle for two years.

What struck me about him then was the entrepreneurial way he “paid” his way around the continent: he traded his web design expertise for up to two months of free lodging in small, family owned hotels. He researched these small hotels, approached them, and offered to (re)design their websites and search-optimize them for English-speaking travellers in North America, Australia, and other parts of Europe. He would do this work in exchange for free lodging and daily breakfast — and he even offered to occasionally wash the dishes, entertain the guests, or help out in the kitchen. In effect, he got to stay with local families (who ran small hotels) across Europe, in exchange for his design and marketing work.

I still think about NYC Designer Dude up to this day. His story inspired me. Every now and then I toy with the idea of doing what he did — offer my marketing and design skills in exchange for backpacking travel. It would be a fantastic marriage of two things I love and which are already integral to my life: a creative career and some authentic cultural experiences.

And I do have some entre- and intrapreneurial ideas of my own. :) Building on the knowledge I’ve gained from stories and encounters (such as above) and research into new business models, I have sketched out a roadmap towards an enhanced, flexible lifestyle that’s compatible with the interests of my full-time employer and freelance clients. The details of that plan I will have to keep under wraps for now, though. Stay tuned.


While on the topic of designer-preneurship…

3_gears_of_business_design_wideI have to say, I am learning a lot and am thoroughly enjoying this process of building my “virtual lab”. Beyond just the “experiments” (projects) themselves, I love imagining my lab as my own little startup — in my mind, it’s a small and nimble media company. Early stages, of course, but I’m building it. I’m still searching for my own magic sauce, and it’s fun. Thinking through a problem, ditching conventional ways, researching for my own solutions rogue style — I am getting so much kick out of it all. The joy of learning and discovery in itself is worth the journey.

And I take pride in being able to step into the role of a visionaire AND a maker. Corporate hierarchy can be so twisted sometimes that the visionary intelligence of makers/designers/developers/doers tends to be overlooked. It takes so much skill, talent, tenacity to be a working designer nowadays. Much respect to my fellows out there.


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