Current models of entrepreneurship celebrate rapid experimentation and the open sharing of ideas to inspire new innovations in business. These models draw upon a range of resources such as technical expertise, infrastructure, and capital. To provide these resources, public and private institutions have collaborated to build innovation ecosystems to supply entrepreneurs with ideal conditions for business creation, and by extension, to drive regional economic development.
Yet this entrepreneurial model has also wreaked havoc on the world. The aggressive focus to design for immediate user needs in product design, with less consideration of future social consequences, has created vulnerabilities in products and companies for exploitation. Disinformation campaigns by nefarious actors have divided communities, undermined elections, and jeopardized global security. While the design literature demonstrates the value of design processes for complex problems in business and society, there is no current expertise in the field of design to inform new venture creation for preferred social outcomes or to combat the threat of disinformation. The companies and products produced by innovation ecosystems have in turn produced the global threat of disinformation. This research explores the role of design to create new ventures, to contend with disinformation, and to design products to afford more positive global consequences.
I conducted practice-based research over six years, as a form of action research, and consolidated my work into four case studies. I described the conditions of the Pittsburgh innovation ecosystem, the factors that inform venture creation, explored lean methods, and built rapid prototypes to formulate a venture concept. I founded the company Symkala and developed material artifacts at every stage of business creation to navigate the surplus of entrepreneurial challenges such as recruitment, ideation, production, and customer acquisition.
Symkala built a geographic information systems (GIS) software. Symkala offered a novel workflow for a GIS analyst to apply supervised machine learning techniques to poorly structured information for geographic data analysis. I then marketed this software to federal and non- government organizations throughout Washington DC. Insights from this work were then applied to redesign Geo4NonPro, a website intended to promote accurate information and citizen participation for global nuclear security via an interactive GIS interface. These case studies additionally informed a trajectory of practice transformation.
A review of the literature and selected artifacts from the case studies, alongside reflection on action, establish insights on design for new venture creation within innovation ecosystems, design to counter disinformation, and product design for systems-level impact. I found that a robust innovation ecosystem does not directly culminate into a successful venture due to resource bias, and therefore a focus on customer research through material production can enable entrepreneurs to work more slowly and mindfully to achieve bold visions. To counter disinformation through products, firms need to prioritize information validity as a central business goal, forcing changes to the organizational structures and processes that guide product delivery. To more effectively channel systems-level insights into human-scale products, the design process must prioritize clarity in goal formation, product definition, and attention to social equities throughout production.