Design at 8VC

April 2016
By Deny Khoung

Design is a strategic advantage. Its importance has saturated consumer mindsets and is increasing with the consumerization of enterprise: good design has become an expectation in the workplace. With 8VC’s focus on smart enterprise, we often emphasize engineering and tech culture, but this is only a part of the picture. It’s critical to incorporate design for companies to thrive. From internal culture and recruiting to product appeal and engagement — everything is impacted by design.

As a Designer-in-Residence, my goal is to see to the success of our portfolio companies through design strategy and execution. I like to be helpful in two stages: pre-designer hire and post-designer hire.

PRE-DESIGNER HIRE

Our Companies Care about Design

Many companies say they want design. Then they’ll say,” Our product needs to look good.” While visual aesthetics are a part of design — it is not the whole. Our companies care about design and that is what matters. We help them further understand design; to differentiate between UX, UI, IX, and visual design

Every business is unique. With knowledge of the various design disciplines, the next question founders often ask is “Do I need more help on UX or UI?” While the answer is often both, the fine line is knowing which to prioritize. This involves taking in to account a number of factors including the company’s industry, the current product, and where design can really move the needle.

Attracting Designers

Winning designers to a team is challenging on two fronts. First, the demand for design talent is fierce — so much so that large tech companies have started acqui-hiring for designers. Second, our founders typically come from a technical background and have limited access to designers.

I help to augment our company’s access and increase their attractiveness to designers through community involvement and relationship development. This happens through meetups, design coffees, online engagement and circulating our curated list of open design positions. I also run Whitespace, a designer accelerator that helps 8VC companies build up their designers and design teams. The program’s emphasis is on community and mentorship for early design hires (designers are social creatures).

BuildZoom: Lessons in Design Hiring

BuildZoom was in the thick of the design hiring process — and every team member was asking for design. I helped assess designer portfolios and skillsets along with jumping into the interview process. I was able to engage with design candidates at their level and represent design for the BuildZoom team. They now have a lead designer, a growing design team, and some lessons from the process.

POST-DESIGNER HIRE

Bringing (Lone) Designers Together

Building a startup means working in isolation because of the focus it demands. Most startups develop their own culture to combat against this. It’s fine for a team of engineers but the designer is often alone with design to engineer ratios floating around 1:8. This keeps design attrition as a top of mind concern for founders.

At 8VC, we gather designers in our portfolio companies for a design meetup once a month (join us). This has been an on-going event for the past 3 years.The meetups allow our design community to share learnings, work, and woes. With many of us working in the smart enterprise space, we often encounter similar design challenges. It’s an intimate crowd which lends itself to more transparency. On one occasion a first-time visitor commented, “Wow, that critique was brutal.” And received a quick response, “That? That was nothing; it was useful.”

Facilitating Growth through Mentorship

I believe the best designers are always learning. Being in tech, it’s pretty much a forcing function. I like to meet with designers in our portfolio companies to better understand what they are working on, what’s keeping them up at night and where they need guidance. Doing this allows me to gain a macro view of design work across our companies — my goal is to maximize our designers potential by connecting designers where they’re able to leverage one another’s knowledge, experience, and expertise.

Kiwi: Team Development

“Deny has been a big help for me while I worked as a lone designer at our company. His design feedback, work advice and guidance has inspired me to be a better designer and communicator. My team has since then grown, our last meeting with Deny was about working effectively as a team, ownership and most importantly how to sell our ideas to the rest of our company. His guidance has been our biggest takeaway from our meetings, they’ve helped us become a successful cohesive team.”
 — Michelle Veneracion, Lead Designer at Chatous

Affinity: Going from Idea to Tangible Experience

“Deny has been involved with us since the time we had nothing more than a few ideas to play around with. Not only did he help us design our MVP, but also set a strong design tone for our team. He helped us hire our first full-time designer, and to date, serves as a great design mentor. Design is a very broad field, and it can sometimes be intangible to see the benefits of it especially at a startup, but Deny is exceptional at making those details tangible.”
 — Shubham Goel, CTO at Affinity

CONCLUSION

Building a company that includes design in its DNA needs to happen early in the life of a startup. And the benefits of having top design culture includes:

  • A culture and mission that is tangible.
  • A brand that is strong both internally and externally.
  • A mindset of iterating to success.
  • A product that is intuitive and delightful.

As with any culture, this requires the right people and time. I enjoy working with our founders and their teams to understand their business and set the stage for design. After that, I help them find the best people and make them even better.

Deny Khoung
Designer in Residence, 8VC

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