The 3 Reasons Behind the Rise of Design Partners

August 10, 2016

8:00 pm

Venture capitalists invest crazy amounts of money into young startups, hoping to get the next big thing. They want that startup to have every chance to succeed, and that means promoting it, guiding it, and mentoring it in countless ways. One aspect that has been on the rise recently: Design. VCs are adding design partners to work with startups in their early stages to ensure that the product or app is appealing.

Irene Au, design partner at Khosla Ventures, has published a report at O’Reilly Media in which she details a few reasons why design partners are popular and why their worth is recognized by VCs.

1: Design Partners Make a Product Stand Out

Once, companies needed more capital to get off the ground. But today, backend infrastructure and frontend UI frameworks are available to take much of the heavy lifting off of the shoulders of any given company. The result? More companies are launching, and a high-quality product design is one of the few ways to rise above the masses.

As Au puts it, “Today, much less capital is required for entrepreneurs to create a product and start a company, leading to an influx of products on the market. Design then becomes the differentiator for these products and companies.”

2: iPhone Success Drives Home the Importance of Design

“Second, the rise of the iPhone demonstrated to company leaders how design innovation can propel a company toward capturing the market and people’s hearts. Apple’s success with its well-designed products set a higher standard for experiences that are aesthetically pleasing, easy to use, and delightful. Companies increasingly want to emulate that success by investing in design.”

Simple but powerful applications are popular everywhere now, from Google’s streamlined interfaces to Slack’s intuitive messaging system.

3: Human Factors Are Now the Biggest Barriers to a Strong UX

Technology used to be the biggest barrier to a strong user experience. But it’s been developing so quickly that it has passed up the human factor:

“Third, as computing technology becomes smaller, cheaper, and faster, and the end of Moore’s Law becomes imminent, human factors become the impediment to superior user performance, not the technology. In the case of Nutanix, a startup that builds data center infrastructure, system administrators have long endured some of the industry’s most unusable and neglected UIs, and that “even” sysadmins, who are heralded for their technical proficiency, deserve well-designed experiences that let them accomplish more in less time.”

Au even quotes a few percentages taken from Gartner research: A whopping 89 percent of companies assume the customer experience will be their “primary basis for competition by 2016.” That’s in comparison to 36 percent of companies just four years earlier. Tides are turning: In a tech-heavy world, design is increasingly essential.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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