Very few designers enter the field with a burning desire to hear terms like "accrual versus cash accounting" or "depreciation and amortization." The rigid structures of accounting and business seem stifling to the right-brained creativity of a talented designer. At the same time, the corporate cubicle culture reflected in many in-house positions can suck the joy out of potentially stimulating projects. There are few experiences as soul crushing as learning that a bean-counter has nixed a particularly beloved aspect of a product or project.
Faced with such job prospects, designers may choose at some point in their career to venture out on their own, put up a shingle, and offer their services as a contractor or freelancer. While starting a venture provides unprecedented design freedom, it also requires that the designer take on some managerial responsibility. Suddenly the designer accustomed to sketching all day finds herself balancing books and reviewing legal contracts.
Sound like fun? I don't think so, and if you went to school for design, chances are you don't think so either. In the real world, however, design decisions are often money decisions, and that's where Shel Perkins's book Talent is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers proves to be a useful resource. Perkins is a graphic designer who now provides management consulting to media companies, so he's familiar with the needs of management and the creative staff. Consisting of nearly 400 pages, Talent is Not Enough catalogs nearly all of the business concerns a designer could have. It covers business plans, incorporation, balance sheets, income statements, patent law, billing rate calculations, and, yes, accrual versus cash accounting is in there too.
As a former "bean-counter" myself, I can tell you that each one of the topics is discussed fairly and accurately. Perkins writes using straightforward language without lots of mathematics or legal jargon. Each one of the topics he discusses could warrant an entire college level course, so Talent is Not Enough is a rather dense read. The index is thorough and invites the reader back to explore relevant topics again in the future. My only complaint would be that the wealth of resources and topics for further study he references in the text are not revisited in an appendix or works cited at the end of the book.
Despite the casual style and the simplification of tough concepts, there's no getting around the fact that Talent is Not Enough is about as fun as it sounds. I've heard it stated, however, that designers need to know just enough of a broad range of subjects (design, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and even business) to be conversant and dangerous. Perkin's book should be required reading for any designer who would like to turn their design degree into a paycheck. So while reading and studying up on business and accounting may not be as much fun as skimming through glossy periodicals, being able to run a breakeven analysis showing that the rapid prototyping machine you've been eying will pay for itself in two years ... well, that just might make these business details seem like fun.