Frank Kozik's brightly colored toy smoking rabbit for Paul Budnitz's Kidrobot typifies the intersection between graphic design and product design. Is it a product design, graphic design, or art? Perhaps it is simply a masterful exercises in anti-form, since its shape needs to be serve more as a canvas than a standalone product. Steven Heller and Lita Talarico's The Design Entrepreneur: Turning Graphic Design into Goods that Sell profiles Kidrobot, along with around fifty other companies who have managed to convert graphic design into "goods." Some, like Shepard Fairey's Obey posters, can be produced as pure printed graphics, while others, like Constantin Boym's "Buildings of Disaster" manifest as matte grey 3-D objects, though admittedly with graphic sensibilities.
The Design Entrepreneur is structured with introductions written by Heller and Talarico, followed by a series of case studies. Each case study consists of an interview with the designer, along with photos of finished products and inspirations. The main emphasis, however, is on the entrepreneurial process. Nearly all of the subjects started small and without clear business plans. Their companies grew organically by making one-offs, selling to friends, and just having fun. Only later did the enterprise grow to a scale that required management. While this should be heartening news for aspiring product design entrepreneurs, I couldn't help but wonder whether turning graphics into goods is simply somehow, well, easier than it is for industrially designed products. With digital design tools and large format CMYK printers it seems as though graphic design ambitions lend themselves more to modest beginnings than hundred thousand dollar injection molds. Fortunately, with the advent of 3D printers and CAD visualization, making products and prototypes is getting easier by the year. So as startup costs fall, and Heller and Talarico's book about goods made by graphic designers may have a lot to teach those of us involved in capital-intensive product design.
Product designers will find a lot to inspire (and a lot to envy) here. Some projects, like Deborah Adler's easy-to-read prescription bottles for Target represent the perfect graphic and product design packaging fusion. Others, like Stefan Bucher's wickedly cute Daily Monster project look like so much fun that they could make an industrial designer wish they'd specialized in graphics instead. Tangible and three dimensional product designs, like Yves Behar's Leaf lamp for Herman Miller, are included as well. These projects demonstrate that the challenges faced by product designers parallel those of graphic designers, albeit at a smaller scale. Hearing Tjeerd Veenhoven describe the many difficulties and setbacks he encountered perfecting and producing his Padded Wall Tiles, for example, teaches clear lessons about what is required for an entrepreneur to bring even a complex product to market. Whether printed plates or modeled toys, however, one heading in Heller and Talarico's introduction sums it up: "Drive makes all the difference." Even though the emphasis may be graphic, The Design Entrepreneur provides a window into the process and motivation required for entrepreneurial success, and that's a lesson we can all learn from.