Designer as Founder: Week One Class Notes

I’ve begun teaching a class at CCA called Designer as Founder. Having made that transition myself, and with the rise of The Designer Fund and design as competitive advantage being touted by folks like 500 startups, it’s overdue!

I feel that it’s time to stop treating designers as artist-idiots, and make sure they have the savvy and tools to be successful in startupland. It’s  time for designers to become full partners in the relationship with engineers and business folks. Thus I’m teaching using the Lean Launchpad as a base. We may even do math.

It’s a 16 week course, not Lean Launchpad’s traditional 8, so we are taking it a bit slower, starting with a mini-exercise seeking out the right market for a friend’s startup, then moving out to developing their own.

In case you want to play along at home, I’ve shared my notes and materials.  This is NOT a lecture class. It’s mostly activities. I plan for maybe 30 minutes of lecture per 6 hour class time. So obviously, this is not udacity. I do recommend the Lean Launchpad Udacity course as a base if you do wish to play along at home.

Please use comments to request clarification.

Required Texts:

Start Here: Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers

The Four Steps to the Epiphany

Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience

Recommended Texts (we will be reading a chapter or two from them, but suggest entire book be gotten)

UX for Lean Startups: Faster, Smarter User Experience Research and Design

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

Designer Founders (Free for Students, only $4.90 otherwise)

Business Model You: A One-Page Method For Reinventing Your Career

Founders At Work Buy PDF

Also Consider:

The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company

The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days
Week One Day One

Goal: provide an experiential learning opportunity showing how startups really get built.
Course Description:
A designer has never had more opportunity in the world of business to create impact. Many venture capitalists today understand the value and are demanding that design be included in the founding of start-ups. In this studio course, students will apply their interaction design skills to designing not only a product but also a business. We will build an idea into a venture. This is not about writing a business plan or doing library research. You will be talking to actual customers and prototyping your idea. You’ll experience the chaos and uncertainty of how many startups actually work. You’ll learn how to use a business model to brainstorm each part of a company and use customer development to get out of the classroom to see if anyone other than you would want and use your product. As well, with the rise of the B-Corp, startups have more ways than ever to shape the world, and we will explore the ethical and societal ramifications of startups. Each week will be a new adventure as you test another part of your business model and share this knowledge with the rest of the class. By the end of course students should have a prototype and a pitch prepared. Even if you decide not to found, you will have the knowledge needed to join an early stage company as a full partner. Assumed prerequisite skills for this course are senior-level design skills, ability to plan and conduct human-centered design research, presentation skills and effective collaboration skills.

Learning objectives:

  • Students will learn and apply detailed skills such as market assessment, customer psychology, business models, rapid iteration.
  • Students will learn and apply process skills such as formulating a successful business concept and articulating and selling that idea to co-founders and funders.
  • Students will deepen their understanding of critical elements that go into a successfully designed product and business
  • Students will advance their ability to design with real world business and buildability constraints
  • Students will learn to shape an idea with an eye to how it sits in the larger world around them, including employee, societal and environmental health (where applicable).

Class One Covered

  • Intro to class. Discussion of syllabus, class culture and structure, goals, expectations.
  • Getting to know each other: Students interview each other in a version of founder dating, switching partners every 10 minutes. Then they report back to the class what they learned about each person.
  • Introduction to Lean Launchpad Approach
  • Video: Business Model Canvas Explained 
  • Studio Time:  Study Kifi  Note: kifi is a startup that kindly agreed to be interviewed and be a case study for my class.  Prepare to interview Jen Ruffner of kifi.


Class Two Covered

The class decided as a way to start the class, we would share things we found awesome: Startups, models, articles or videos.  I shared Entrepreneurs Are Artists

  • Jen discusses kifi
  • Discussion of 9 elements of business Model (students defined the 9 elements, as we drew it on the board)
  • Teams to create their first business model canvas hypotheses for each of the 9 parts of the business model for the market they are pursuing for Kifi.
  • Come up with ways to test:
    • is a business worth pursuing (market size)
    • each of the hypotheses
  • Come up with what constitutes a pass/fail signal for the test (e.g. at what point would you say that your hypotheses wasn’t even close to correct)?



  • Test your hypothesis for kifi with potential customers. 5 interviews for each team member.
  • Reverse engineer one competitor’s canvas (if no competitor, some other company)


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