Designer of the Week Kristian Andersen is a co-founder and partner at High Alpha, a venture studio that conceives, launches and scales enterprise technology companies. He also founded Studio Science, a leading design and innovation consultancy that works with high-growth technology companies, as well as several other venture funds and startups.
Read on to find out what Andersen thinks about pushing the boundaries of design entrepreneurship, transcending job titles and more. Plus: the seven people who inspire him every single day.
Name: Kristian Andersen
Design school attended: BA, Design—Anderson University
How would you describe your work?
Clear, functional and results-focused. Our work is very pragmatic, but we’re not afraid to inject some whimsy and delight into the final product—we work really hard to create work that connects with people on a visceral and emotive level (business folks are people too). This sounds trite—but it’s true, we really endeavor to design brands, products and experiences that connect people to a sense of mission, purpose and virtue.
Where do you find inspiration?
I gravitate toward extremes, and my inspiration comes from spending time exploring the edges and intersections of those extremes. I’m an ardent student of culture, and I’m fascinated by cities, fashion, literature, architecture, and technology—and I’m captivated by God’s creation and the natural world. I spend a lot of time outdoors, on my family’s ranch, hunting and fishing, tending to my honey bees, and working in my garden. I have a big family, six beautiful children (Scout, Daisy, Indiana, Dixie, Dolly and Violet) and a lovely wife (Brandi)—I can’t get enough of them—they continue to inspire me in new and profound ways every day.
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
The projects I work on are never singular—it’s never an image, or just a logo or a product. Most of the projects we work on are complex systems, which means I really have to talk about the system as a whole. In most cases—it’s the design of an entire business—the visual identity, the product UI, the customer experience, the pricing strategy, the go-to-market plan, etc. That’s what I believe is really unique about what we do at Studio Science and High Alpha—we design entire businesses—not just pieces of it.
If I had to pick one—it would be the work we did to design a new model of entrepreneurship at High Alpha. There was so much that had to be considered and so much that was really having to be defined for the first time. There was really no existing model for uniting a startup studio, with a strong design function, and venture capital fund. That’s what was really exciting, being able to apply the design discipline to the whole enterprise. And it touched every aspect of the business: naming, visual identity, architectural design, organizational structure, innovation frameworks and marketing.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I hope to continue to push the boundaries of design entrepreneurship. I’m so excited by the prospect of designers exerting more influence over the future of business, government, finance, education and healthcare. I really think we are still on “day one” of exploring the impact that embracing design can have on our personal and professional lives.
What’s your best advice for designers today?
Focus on broadening your skills and not getting trapped into self-limiting thinking about what it means to be a “designer.” Forget about swimming in your own lane—learn the language (and the skills) of business, technology, finance, sales, etc., and lean into those things. In business, designers too often are content to stick to their knitting—to throw their arms up in frustration when a problem or opportunity transcends their job title. Likewise, the days of designers being able to pull off the disaffected, “they just don’t get it” attitude are gone. It’s our job to educate, inspire, and lead—and to do that we have to master the arts of salesmanship and persuasion.
[Check out Ilise Benun’s recent HOW Design Live Podcast interview with Andersen titled “How to Grow Your Design Business as a Venture Capitalist.”]
From the editor of the pioneering Education of… series, this benchmark collection of fifty essays and interviews provides students and working designers with a firm understanding of the pitfalls and triumphs awaiting the design entrepreneur.
Contributors such as Byron Glaser and Sandra Higashi, Eric Zimmerman, Rudy VanderLans, and others reveal that entrepreneurship is not simply a designer’s ticket to liberation–it can also be a labyrinth of clerical tasks and manufacturing nightmares.
This collection provides candid anecdotes and no-frills advice for any designer ready to brave the trials and rewards of entrepreneurship.