User Experience Professionals as Product Entrepeneurs

When I attended the IA Summit a few months ago in Vegas, one interesting theme captured my attention: A number of my user experience (UE) colleagues were busy founding their own product or service companies. Mind you, UE professionals have been running design agencies and consulting companies for a long time now. However, these UE professionals are founding new businesses that offer products and services outside the traditional realm of design and research.

Folks often talk about 37signals as the poster child of a design firm that morphed into a product company. But, I’ve been in Silicon Valley since 1993 and watched the boom and bust and boom. Most of the startups were founded by engineers and MBA’s. UE professionals tended to only be brought in much later to make it “pretty” and clean up usability messes. So, I find it quite refreshing and interesting to see UE professionals as successful founders and I think it bodes well for our profession and the industry. Why? Because they understand the power of fulfilling user needs with compelling and useful experiences. It will be interesting to see if they track to similar success as 37signals.

Luke Wroblewski over at Functioning Form describes what he calls “The Shifting Role of Design“. In essence, the roles of design and design thinking are becoming increasingly critical for success in today’s shifting economy. He states:

When Markets mature faster, function is increasingly assumed and no longer a core differentiator. As a result, design becomes a key differentiator sooner.

Let me wrap up with sharing some examples of startups that have been founded by UE professionals recently:

Rashmi Sinha, one of the founders of SlideShare, has a well-known reputation in the field of User Experience. What is SlideShare? Basically, it is a great web application and service for hosting and sharing presentations. One of the biggest benefits is that this means no more sending (and receiving) those monstrous emails with PowerPoint presentation attachments. TechCrunch had a nice writeup on it last year.

Lou Rosenfeld, founder of Rosenfeld Media, is another well-known figure in the UE community. Lou spent most of his career as an information architecture consultant. Rosenfeld Media is a publishing house dedicated to developing short, practical, and useful books on user experience design. One unique aspect of Rosenfeld Media is that they have opened a nice 2-way dialog with readers by soliciting ideas for books, how to improve the books being published, and even how to improve the company itself. Boxes and Arrows has a good interview with Lou from last year.

Last, but not least, Christina Wodtke is one of the founders of Cucina Media, a web software company focused on collaborative publishing. Christina is also a very well-known UE professional in the industry. PublicSquare is one of their first products “created out of the need for a multi-contributor publishing environment”.

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