Why is it so rare to find a startup founder who is a graphic designer?

Are graphic designers not entrepreneurs? This couldn’t be accurate as so many of them found their independent studios. But it seems like they are avoiding the startups world. And it’s especially notable in a country titled “the Startup Nation”.

I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to recruit a graphic designer, illustrator or even an art director to join our startup – in vain. . It’s an amazing startup with a big promise to change the way kids learn and perceive learning, or knowledge. I had no trouble “selling the idea” to several amazing artists.  The 3 designers that seemed to be into it got as far as a second work meeting before they announced the project will demand too many hours for them to commit to.

What do you mean?

When you join a startup you make a commitment. That’s what you do. Like the programmer who joins a startup, like the marketing or bizdev or product person or community manager who joins a startup. Yes, you join a company means you make a commitment to work for this company. And when it’s a startup doing its early steps this means you give it the hours that you have after your day job, until funding is in and you can fully dedicate yourself to that same startup you joined.

That’s what people do when they join a startup. Why not graphic designers?pencil_carving_by_cerkahegyzo


I’ve been trying to crack it. One artist told me “Graphic designers are one of the most exploited sectors there are. People are always asking them to do a “quick design”, with a promise to compensate retroactively or with company stock options, but at the end the stock options are worth nothing, or the company didn’t raise funds, and so we don’t get paid. Experienced designers are familiar with this pattern and will not repeat this mistake”.

“Wait”, I told her, “you can say the same thing about the programmer who coded for hours, and days and weeks and might or might not benefit from the startup – if it gets on.”

“Yes, but it’s not really the same thing”, she said, “Graphic artists are usually paid less then programmers and so they are forced to get more after-hours projects to survive. If they will not get paid for their after-work project, their financial stability is hurt”.

I was willing to go with this theory until I found out this is not really the case. The gap between the salaries of a programmer with 5-6 years of experience and a graphic designer with the same number of years is not that big. It seems to me programmers are simply more the types who would take on a risk. And graphic designers underestimate the risks in running a services firm.

“The simplest answer. Designers are trained to be agents. In almost every environment we act as agents in service to someone else. Even internal corporate design departments usually act as an agency whose services are rendered at the bequest of others” writes on Quora Dave Malouf, a professor of Interaction Design at the Savannah College of Art & Design in Savannah, GA and a current co-founder of a startup.

That’s an interesting concept really. “…designers are more visionaries than they are executors”, writes James Sinclair, a Business Growth Consultant, “with all of the skills and talent and understanding they bring, without someone to place constraints, it will never ship.”

But that brings me back to square one: when invited to join a venture, an idea you really like, why are graphic designers so reluctant to join?