If you thought the trend of the design founder or the designer as the new tech rock star had reached its peak last year, think again. Internet and mobile startups, older tech firms and venture capitalists, they all seem to be doubling down on investing in design and building design practices in 2013.
On Thursday Facebook announced that it has acquired the talent of design firm Hot Studio. Facebook said it’s been working with Hot Studio for the past few months, and the acqui-hire follows in the footsteps of Facebook bringing in designers like Nick Felton, Mike Matas, and Nate Bolt.
Also on Thursday venture firm NEA announced the launch of NEA Studio, a 12-week program in New York for design founders of web and mobile startups. NEA said that during the program founders will work with designers and NEA portfolio companies, and the founders that excel will have the opportunity to work on launching a product and can use NEA’s workspace and receive a stipend.
The NEA news is similar to the announcement by Kleiner Perkins back in November that it is launching a design fellows program. Google Ventures has been aggressive on design work with its Design Studio, as has 500 Startups with their design fund and Greenstart with its in house designers.
Mobile apps, web products, and wearable connected devices are winning and losing based on the designed user experience and user interface of the product. Well-designed products like Path and Pinterest have emerged as leaders, while sites that haven’t evolved with good design haven’t.
Another aspect behind this trend is that the internet, mobile networks and computing are maturing, and the way regular people — not tech nerds and early adopters — interact with these technologies is fundamentally changing. Google and Apple both have their audio AI computing products — Google Now and Siri, respectively — and touch has started to become the de-facto standard for mobile devices.
At the SXSW Interactive festival this week, there seemed to be a greater presence of talks from designers and design founders than in previous years. During one such panel Tony Fadell, the CEO and founder of Nest, talked about how good design has always existed but has more recently, with the rise of Apple, become more democratized.
But designing a winning UX (user experience) for a targeted audience can be tricky, which is why designers are starting to be so highly coveted. On the SXSW panel, Fadell and Jawbone CEO Hosain Rahman talked about the importance of iteration and testing and Rahman said Jawbone’s connected wristband product UP had over 200 iterations. Still, the first version of the Jawbone UP flopped, and the company replaced those early versions with a version 2 of the product.
Wearables in particular can be tricky, as the world of computing hasn’t previously had to think much about the UX of the body. Google has reportedly started working with designer glasses company Warby Parker for the design of its Google Glass, augmented reality glasses.
We delved into some of these connected design topics at our second annual RoadMap event last year, and we think design is such an important trend that we plan to keep that conversation going throughout 2013. Our third annual RoadMap event will take place later this year in November.