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My Top 10 Design Business Failures

In mid-February, I was invited to speak at SCAD's Entreprenurial Forum 2011 in Savannah, Georgia. This event was presented by SCAD's Office for Career and Alumni Success, and was designed for students across all majors to gain perspectives on how they can become successful as design businesspeople in today's economic climate. The above presentation is my greatest hits album of major and minor business mistakes I made over my career before working at frog design, both as a freelancer and while working within creative agencies of all shapes and sizes.

When I graduated from college, the whole world seemed open to me. No matter how big or how small a project might be, I would take it—even if there wasn't money attached to it. Freelancing and working at small agencies, I convinced myself that this was a good way to build my portfolio. Since I was working mostly with nonprofit clients, it felt good knowing that my design work was helping children with Type 1 Diabetes, or advocating professional standards for the discipline of civil engineering.

But while I was nurturing my design practice and building my portfolio, I was neglecting my business—both as a freelancer, and as a designer with account service and project management responsibilities at a small studio. As a result, I made a number of business mistakes that caused hardship for the studio. Untangling those mistakes took considered effort and ongoing conversations with working professionals at other firms, gleaning their insight into best practices for running design studios.

It's my hope that by sharing my early failures, freelance and student designers can learn from my mistakes and better operate and manage their their design practices as profitable design businesses.

David Sherwin is an interaction design director at frog. He has built his reputation as a design leader, interaction designer, and researcher with 17 years of experience in generating compelling solutions for systemic business problems. David is the author of Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills and Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers. You can follow David on Twitter @changeorder.