Starting Over

Explosions in the Fall

The Death of DesignxHustle


I started writing the blog DesignXHustle in my final semester at Mass Art. At the time, it was a way for me to record my process as I tried to take an idea to market, the CocoNest, which I had won an honorable mention for in that year’s IHA Student Design competition. Both the product and the blog were part of my senior capstone project at Mass Art, which was centered around Millenials and entrepreneurship. Now, four years into my career, I’ve realized that I want a platform to archive my process, elucidate ideas, and create a record of my growth and experience… but looking back over the old posts, the discontinuity is just a little too jarring.

For one thing, I got some things wrong

My senior capstone consisted of two full-semester classes centered on a simple prompt; design a product for Millenials. The first semester was spent conducting user research; creating a methodology, interviewing fellow Millenials, and synthesizing the findings into a brief. We started quite broad, trying to understand the unique challenges faced by our (my) generation, and in the end, narrowed in the focus of my research on work.

It seemed to me at the time, that my generation was obsessed with side hustles and starting their own companies in a search for meaningful work, and as an escape from the pitfalls of traditional labor. It seemed to me that what most Millenials craved was a work-life balance, and not only a job but a career that they cared about, and the most expedient route to that was to start a business.

And so, for the second half of my senior year, I decided that I would go through this experience myself, taking a product from idea to market (or at least as close as I could get it) and then create a resource that Designtrepreneurs like myself could use to more effectively bootstrap their own revolutionary products. Hell, I’d already started a relatively successful Etsy shop called Durable Goods Manufacturing Company, and already had a sense of what it would take to work with manufacturers, build a website, market my product, etc. I’d learn a bunch, and maybe kick start my career with a successful (hopefully) crowd-funding campaign.

In the end, I didn’t take my product to market, and I didn’t really solve any problems for my fellow Millenials, searching for meaning through self-employment. I graduated, handed in my final assignment, and got a job in the industry.

Post Mortem

I have some thoughts on why this happened. It has become clear since this time, that the Millennial fixation on side hustling has more to do with their alienation from traditional labor and lack of fulfilling opportunities, and the startup craze is the result of a lot of capital floating around in the market looking for a good idea that it can attach itself to, if only to be used to claim a tax loss for the extremely rich. Neither of these things have resulted in a better work-life balance for my generation, and in fact it’s ludicrous in retrospect that I thought this might be the case.

If anything it seems to have lead to more exploitation, and more general anxiety, and indeed, most people that I know, especially the successful ones, live extremely stressful lives with very little balance. You will know them by their oft-repeated mantra — “sorry for the delay, this week has been crazy but things should calm down soon”.

That’s not adulthood, it’s capitalism.

That’s not adulthood, it’s capitalism.

That said, I do still believe in the power of bootstrapping, and crowd funding, and entrepreneurship, and the democratizing the means of production, and “innovation” and all of those romantic things that got me into this field in the first place (more on that in a future post). Some very interesting products and creative projects have come about thanks to these things, especially ones that serve populations largely ignored by the mainstream, and I do think it’s true that working for oneself can be a more robust position than working for a traditional employer, with boundaries.

However, in trying to bootstrap my own product, I ultimately came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth following through on. It had potential, I think, and lots of other people did as well, but I wasn’t happy with the solution at the end of the day, and I wasn’t about to go into dept tooling up to produce a thing I didn’t feel good about, certainly not once I found myself with my first real job designing medical devices.

But in the end, the experiment was a success, even in its failure. I learned a lot, I made a thing, I graduated, and ultimately I got a job that would lead me to even more opportunities to learn, and make, etc.

The real treasure was the friends we made along the way

What Comes Next

For now, I’d like to have a space to expand on some ideas that have been percolating in my brain over the last few years. What design can do for the world and its limitations; how things have changed and continue to change; where people fit into all of this; and where I fit in as well. It’s a prototype, and I hope that it is a useful tool for understanding more about myself and the things that I am passionate about.

In a more practical sense, I do intend to archive the original DesigxHustle blog as a separate page connected to this one, and I have what I think are some interesting and hopefully rewarding regular columns like The Oblique Philosophy Corner and Billion Dollar Ideas, in addition to writing on whatever weird ideas come to mind. Expect some weird PoMo design theory and plenty of extremely subtle Marxist ideology, fam.

I hope you’ll join me.