Recently I had the privilege of being interviewed by Om Malik at his Roadmap Conference. We were talking about about design in general and Adobe in particular, and he asked me about the project I had completed earlier in the year, in which we redesigned the entire Adobe.com experience from the ground up. It was an almost absurd undertaking, and Om rightly pointed out what had been at stake. “How do you convince a big company like that to make such a big change? Isn’t design risky?”
I thought for a moment, and then told him I disagreed:
“Design isn’t risky — change is. Good design mitigates that risk.”
I’ve felt this way for a long time. It was one of our core values 14 years ago when we founded Adaptive Path. More recently, it was part of our pitch when we started working on Typekit. And it’s been at the core of the transformation we’ve done at Adobe. Now I’ll have the opportunity to practice these values in a much different venue: As of this week, I’m leaving Adobe and joining True Ventures as a Design Partner.
In my new role, I’ll be focusing on helping True’s portfolio companies cultivate the best product and design work they possibly can, and to seek out new companies who have that same passion. To that end, I’ll be taking advisory roles with a variety of companies, including a wonderful opportunity to serve in a temporary capacity to guide product design and strategy with the amazing team at about.me.
The Internet has matured into an age of design. We spent the ’90s getting the technology to work, and the following decade mainstreaming and scaling this magical new platform. But as we’ve slowly climbed up our version of Maslow’s Hierarchy, we’re reaching a point where the overall experience someone has with a product is quickly becoming the biggest competitive advantage a company has. John Gruber expressed this change nicely in his coverage of Apple’s record-breaking revenue numbers this week: “[D]esign can matter in the mass market. For decades the industry’s conventional wisdom held that design wasn’t important. The industry’s leaders created shitty software and shitty hardware. Apple’s success has upended the industry’s value system.”
That value system has always interested me. In my work, I’ve focused on putting human needs ahead of technical achievement; empathy ahead of processing power. Working in venture capital with True will give me the ability to practice that more broadly, and at a more influential time in a company’s growth. Working intensely with a company like about.me will let me hone my skills more deeply. It should make for a rewarding balance.
Last week, I said goodbye to my team at Typekit.
Yes, I’m excited about my new opportunities, but they come with bittersweet emotions. I’ve made some amazing friends at Typekit, some of whom I’ve worked with with since the product’s inception. Together, we grew the germ of an idea into an astonishingly large service, serving billions of fonts to millions of web sites. We’ve had a significant impact on how the web looks and works, and provided solid revenue for the craftspeople who shape the world’s type. But what I’ll miss the most are the bonds forged between all of us and expressed through the culture of trust and respect. I’m proud of our work together, and confident they’ll continue to do amazing things at Adobe.
As one chapter closes, another opens. My new job will give me the opportunity to contribute from a different perspective than the entrepreneurial world I’ve been in.
Still, I feel like I’ll be doing the same thing I’ve always been trying to achieve: Figuring out what people truly need and presenting a solution that satisfies those needs as clearly as possible. It’s as relevant now as it ever has been.