Craft and Communication are the Keys to Successful Startups

Reflections on San Diego Startup Week

Craft and Communication are the Keys to Successful Startups

By Kurt Hunker, FAIA, Acting Dean of the Architecture and Construction Management Programs

At the end of June, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion during San Diego Startup Week. I joined several of my local colleagues—including Sean Van Tyne, principal of the Van Tyne Group, and Paul Basile, principal and lead designer of the Basile Studio, where several of our students have interned—for a discussion of creative process.

One of the things I stressed is that innovation isn’t as much about technology and tools as it is about craft and communication. In my experience, the most careful and conscientious designers are those who care about craft. The most meaningful work often comes from people who have taken the time to understand their tools—whether they are analog or digital—and explore the potential of those tools to do more. Innovation and creativity are also about being able to get ideas across effectively. A lot of what we do as architects, designers, or entrepreneurs is storytelling. We have a narrative throughout the creative process, and we need to be effective at helping our clients or customers understand and buy into it.

This is one of the things that helps our students stand out in firms. They are effective presenters, they manage projects in an organized way, they work collaboratively, and they represent their firms well in front of clients. Our students have these skills, because studios are at the center of our design program. They have to present their work to the class, their instructors, and guests who are often clients or industry experts.

Our graduates are also no strangers to startups. One example I shared during the panel was about four architecture students who graduated at the height of the Great Recession. They researched the broader market and found that they could design and build restaurant interiors with just a contractor’s license. Since then, they’ve been very successful with top restaurants downtown and in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Like them, it is important to keep an open mind and be ready—with honed skills in craft and communication—to move on startup opportunities that look promising.