Method & Findings

To identify a path for career development of Hong Kong based design entrepreneurs, we have adopted a case study research methodology to investigate real-life cases to build theory. After conducting the background search, we selected dozens of design entrepreneurs for interviews between August 2009 and September 2010. The selection criteria were: 1) local/foreign; 2) types in the framework; 3) design field; 4) years of experience/ different generations; 5) different scale of achievement and 6) administrative timing.

After creating the first two cases, we developed a preliminary case research framework. A protocol of research checklist and artifact collection list was established. Another six cases were written following this protocol. After analysis and case write- up, we conducted validation workshops for designers and business people. We then produced the teaching notes by integrating the first teaching experience of each case with participants’ feedback, focusing on the challenges they were facing. Then, we conducted further analysis of consistencies identified across the cases to propose a taxonomy of seven main types of design entrepreneurship. Studying multiple cases made it possible to build a logical chain of evidence (Yin 1994).

The strategy of knitting research, course development, and teaching together to build better theory provided an iterative process to better our understanding of the career roadmap of Hong Kong based design entrepreneurs. The Chinese version and video version of the cases are available at the website of the CUHK Center for Entrepreneurship and subsequently a new website for this study. The English version of the cases shall be distributed by the case research center of the Richard Ivey School of Business.

Conceptual Framework
The design industry thrives on creativity and stardom. Recognition will be given to those designers whose works have become market hits, museum collectibles, and winners in world renowned design competitions. Managing design talents, one’s own or others‘, involves processes in transforming ideas into outstanding products, services and ultimately brands. The success of which depends on how the talents and works can be organized and managed effectively in open, diverse, collaborative and competitive social contexts (See Appendix). The interactions of talents, works, and social contexts form the key to our understanding.

In our study, the roadmap is presented in multiple but iterative phases. Our hypothesis states that the design entrepreneur will take positions in one’s field. These positions can change over time from which a career path can be mapped. The positions can be understood as behavioral types of design entrepreneurship which include: apprentice, merchant, consultant, artist, enterprise builder, platform host, and thought leader. Throughout the different phases of a design entrepreneur’s career, as a result of the interactions of the three key dimensions, new career position and trajectory can be formed. Let us look at each type one by one:

The apprentice enters the profession either by receiving a formal design education or by learning on the job through working for a design/creative firm. The skills, types of work, and clients exposed to the apprentice during the preparation period will pave the way for the person to build up own resources and competence. Diversity, scale and intensity in the apprenticeship experience will influence how the apprentice manages creativity in the future.

The merchant focuses on short term survival by generating enough sales to keep the company in business. Thus, financial stability receives a higher priority than creative autonomy as the merchant has little bargaining power over the clients. At the same time, the merchant is faced with the difficulties in attracting and retaining talents due to the lack of attractive remuneration package, resources, and reputation.

The artist needs tremendous degree of autonomy. Creative freedom is very important to the artist. Money is secondary. To a certain extent, the artist prefers to work independently than with a team of people. Such individual is not keen on managing others, because the time spent doing that will be the time taken away from doing creative works.

The consultant is less compromising than the merchant and choosing the right client is very important to him. Unlike the artist, the consultant considers the management of talents as a very important job in running the business, because the professional image has to be consistently upheld by the team. To maintain the high level of creativity and quality, the consultant has to spend time setting the standards, guiding the design process, and gatekeeping the final deliverables. This is the basis for charging a pricey consulting fee. However, the consultant does not have the scale and capacity that enterprise builder has to retain an army of talents to handle multiple large scale projects that take place simultaneously.

Enterprise Builder
An enterprise builder is a system builder. In order to manage a huge team of creative talents, sometimes across multiple locations, countries, and cultures, the enterprise builder has to have a system in place for managing multiple business functions. Integrated design and production software and IT infrastructure are frequently used to link up and streamline the information flow within the organization across different geographical locations. Productivity, sales, and financial reports can be produced through the system to let the management team know where the bottlenecks are and upcoming challenges will be. Tremendous amount of time has to be devoted to build the sales, system and the team to sustain the scale.

Platform Host
Both the enterprise builder and platform host excel in building systems and processes. Nonetheless, the enterprise builder keeps the system within his own organization and intranet, unlike the platform host who extends the system to outside parties. Moreover, the platform host has to provide the incentives and convenience to creative talents and their customers for conducting transactions through a market place. Apple is an excellent example of a platform host. The Apple AppStore or iTune Store is a good example of a platform through which creative talents can unleash their creativity while customers can download apps or music easily and affordably. The platform produces enormous economic values. Compared with the enterprise builder, the platform host has to devote more time to build a community of designers and collectors.

Thought Leader
A thought leader is more than a business entrepreneur but a guru who has a view on design that can change the way how the industry looks at itself. New ideas, forms, design processes, and business protocols come from thought leaders. Usually, the thought leaders serve as judges in design competition. Their views on design and design management are widely publicized in news reports, interviews and their own written works. Some of them even teach at design schools. To a thought leader, leaving a cultural legacy is just as important as running a business.

According to the framework, each position or entrepreneurial type will interact with the social contexts differently. Some may take on a more active role to shape and leverage the contexts to their advantages, others may choose to adapt and find a small niche good enough for survival and creative development.

The artist may choose to keep the scale small so he can have complete control over the creative process. On the other hand, the merchant may choose to deliver whatever the clients want just to stay in business. The consultant keeps his professionalism by screening clients very carefully and building quality guidelines for staff to follow. As the scale of the company continues to grow, it takes an enterprise builder to build more comprehensive systems and processes to manage a diverse pool of talents and projects

across different locations. The platform host further extends the systems and processes to outside business partners to unleash more values. The thought leader looks at the big picture and tries to help others understand the current problems and make recommendations for future improvements through his writings, speeches, and teachings. Finally, the apprentice goes through his apprenticeship with the master. Learning in a creative atmosphere will help him to chart his course in a creative career.

The typology is only an initial attempt to classify different types of entrepreneurial behavior in the design field. Further validations have to be conducted through additional case studies and quantitative research.

For Hong Kong’s creative ecologies to be sustainable, there is a need for more enterprise builders, platform hosts, and thought leaders who can build the systems, set the standards, and provide the opportunities for growth and learning. They circulate jobs and ideas for enriching the diversity of the creative spaces. It is better for young creative talents to flourish in an environment with different types of design entrepreneurs than one in which only the merchants and a few star consultants dominate.





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