The Future of Design in Start-Ups Survey: 2016 Results and why we thought it was a good idea.

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Over the past five years or so, design has certainly become a hot topic in start-up circles. We’ve seen large incumbents like Google embrace design, and seen entire brand-first consumer e-commerce companies reach stratospheric levels of success. And while everyone talks about design’s importance in building an amazing company, it’s been very surprising to us that there is very little data about why, when or how to integrate design into company operations.

So, in August of 2016, we launched an anonymous survey to better understand the importance and emerging trends of design in start-ups. We wanted to know what made a design-centric company, design-centric, and to see if it was actually thought of as a positive investment when building a company. We did this in collaboration and with support from a diverse set of design leaders including: IDEO, Uber, Invision, among many others; we benefited greatly from their insight and support. …

5 Insights from 12 Months with over 50 Companies.

It’s been about 12 months since I started at NEA as a Designer-In-Residence. We have about 450 companies in our portfolio and I’ve been fortunate to connect with a good 10% of them (400 to go!). I’ve worked with CEO’s, Founders, and Heads of Product and Design at companies all the way from the seed stage to Series D and beyond.

I’ve spent time a good deal of time getting to know the products and processes of our various companies across verticals from consumer (like Pocket and Casper and Goop) to enterprise (like OnShape and Plaid) to those working on more fundamental tech (like Sentons) and every flavor in-between. I’ve also had exposure to different mediums, such as hardware (Desktop Metal) to data (Enigma) to chip sets (PsiKick) to healthcare platforms (Bright Health); it’s been a remarkable opportunity to learn what our portfolio’s needs are with regards to design and product across every dimension. If the breadth of our portfolio — both in terms of verticals and stage of growth — is a representative sampling of the broader start-up market, we have certainly come a long way in our appreciation and understanding of what value design brings to the table. From reviewing wireframes and user flows, to product development roadmaps, to branding and positioning, to how to hire a design team, the conversations have been wide-ranging. …

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What it means to be the Designer-In-Residence at the world’s largest VC.

A few months ago, when Dayna Grayson and Kate Barrett first mentioned to me the possibility of joining NEA as a Designer-in-Residence, I was simultaneously intrigued and excited. I became a designer because I wanted to create useful things — what would it be like to do that in partnership with the world’s largest venture capital firm? Could a heightened emphasis on design within NEA lead to greater impact for the design community, for the companies within NEA’s portfolio, and for end-users everywhere?

I began my career as an architect. What I loved most was the complete nature of the experience that you were solving for — from things that defy measurement, like creating a space that people would instantly and intuitively know how to use, all the way down to the detail of how a wall meets the floor. Getting it right meant delivering an experience that would provide not just utility, but could also elicit an emotional response; it could make you ‘feel’ something while you were using the building. …


Albert Lee

Design Partner @NEA (VC) - Exec Coach @Reboot.io - Previously @IDEO @2x4 @frankgehry @studiomates

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