Over the weekend I watched this very cool TED talk on what your designs say about you. (For me it gets good at about 8:15 in.)
Great design starts with a problem statement and then proposes a solution. The basic idea of this talk is that what you design, the way you solve the problem represents your values and ideals — it presents your vision of the good life. In solving a problem, you make certain things easier and other things harder – through intention or by omission. You assume many things about your customers, how they will engage with the solutions you have built and what they will value/the benefits they will enjoy when they use your design. This is true of companies, products and services and in each case thoughtful, detail oriented problem solving that puts the consumer first speaks most clearly.
The example from the talk of a classic classroom set-up and what it says about the values and norms of education is great. The seats are in rows, they are bolted to the floor and they all face the same direction – screaming that learning happens when one person speaks and everyone else sits, taking notes, individually listening in fixed position — not to be changed. Design matters. What are you creating and what does it say about your values and the norms you want the audience to accept?
When I was building product I asked myself this everyday – I would obsess over it when looking at shoes, t-shirts, shorts, video games, marketing campaigns and in-store displays as well as customer service best practices, sales pitches and business partnership presentations. Now as an investor I don’t design much, but when we moved into our new offices on Union Square, I had a chance to shape one of the critical products I deliver each day — the environment for my meetings with founders.
To do this, I thought a lot about my most effective meetings, the great conversations, not 45 minute presentations, and tried to design a solution based on these values.
I think VC product is broken and I have been trying to learn how to fix it for awhile. For most entrepreneurs VC meetings occur across a conference table in a dimly lit room where they have to compete for attention with mobile eMail and the soporific hum of a projector. For later stage companies, maybe this is the right format, I don’t know, but at the seed stage it is all wrong. Seed stage meetings are about ideas and vision, early product and design and most of all about the team. I set up my new office for conversations — as a place designed to get to know people, to engage in their ideas and learn about their inspiration, vision and mission.