Design in Venture Capital

How Design Drives Investment and Company Success

Design in Venture Capital

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Has design finally arrived? Venture capital firms with multimillion-dollar portfolios have recently begun to add design partners to work with startups during their formative stages. In this report, Irene Au—Design Partner at Khosla Ventures—describes what this emerging role means to designers, investors, and entrepreneurs.

Through interviews with design partners in several VC firms, Au explains that a design partner’s job is to provide design leadership. They may advise CEOs or work directly with leaders within the companies to help them succeed, but they don’t do any hands-on design work for these companies or even tell them what the design of their product should be.

By using design as a problem-solving tool, introducing design thinking into companies, and coaching leaders on how to create environments where design can be successful, design partners teach startups how to build design-oriented cultures during the most nascent stages of a company’s life.

Through the course of this report, you’ll explore:

  • What the design partner role means to designers, investors, and entrepreneurs
  • Commonly asked questions about the role of design partner
  • How design partners approach the job, and how they measure success
  • Challenges that design partners face when working with startups
  • What interested designers can do to prepare—or position—themselves for a design partner role

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Irene Au

Irene Au is an operating partner at Khosla Ventures, where she works with portfolio companies to make their design great. She has led the UX teams at Google (2006–2012), Yahoo! (1998–2006), and Udacity (2012–2014). She began her career as an interaction designer at Netscape Communications, where she designed the Internet’s first commercial web browser.