Design + Startup

At First Round, we do lots of events focused on our Community of portfolio companies from speaker series to workshops to office hours. Every month our platform team helps hundreds of First Round entrepreneurs come together to learn from each other and from experts across the start-up industry.

The +Startup series represents us turning the energy and focus we bring to our First Round Community events on the broader start-up industry — starting with design and with the Design+Startup series.

We started with Design because of a passion for it as a craft and deep belief that it is the cornerstone of the next wave of great companies. IDEO engaged as a partner and, working with them, we pulled together a fantastic group of leading designers to talk about their craft, how they approach problems and the tools they use to create solutions.

We invited an audience of designers who could learn from these perspectives and take actionable items back to work the next day. The Design+Startup series also attracts design talent from outside the start up industry, from agencies and large companies, and help them understand the impact designers are having at start-ups — shaping product and company direction,not pushing pixels. We hope the +Startup events encourage them to bring their talents to the start up industry. (if you are a designer looking to join a start-up, you can start your search on our jobs page)

Over the next few days I will post videos of the talks from the last Design+Startup event in San Francisco along with brief summaries and will be planning the next Design+Startup event in New York for September 27th.

In San Francisco, our first speaker was Tom Hulme, a Design Director for IDEO in London.

Tom talks about designing for emergence and how the craft of design is changing as the world moves faster. It is a great talk and is a perfect example of what we are trying to do with the +startup speaker series: Getting practitioners talking to practitioners; sharing perspectives and actionable insight among the best that the start-up industry has to offer and hoping to help every entrepreneur be a world class entrepreneur. For more perspective on Design+Startup, also check out the piece Erin Griffith wrote for Pando Daily.


Designing for emergence bubbles up as it becomes cheaper and cheaper to experiment and you can try everything in parallel rather than following a waterfall development and design model of iteration.

Tom shares 4 keys to designing for emergence…

1. Accelerate Evolution

Parallel evolution >; linear development: A project can be expensive, time-consuming, and creativity constrained when it is being developed by one single thread, but when the project is opened up to many, it can accelerate on a different trajectory.

In 1991, Linus Torvalds sent out this message: “Hello everybody out there… I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, it won’t be anything big and professional like gnu)…” and with no serious expectations, the Linux operating system was created (there is a great picture in Tom’s deck)

What aspect of your product can you open up for external development? This is not about the wisdom of the crowd, but about leveraging the craft of the crowd.

2. Consider Constraints

In an environement where you want creativity to spread, the constraints are even more important than your initial ideas and it is the constraints that will shape the direction of your platform. Apple introduced constraints in the iOS dev kit and these rules gave apps a level of predictability that made them feel natural to users.

In looking at your product, have you designed the constraints?

3. Serendipity Favors the Connected

When you connect diverse people together and capture diverse data, value will emerge. Designing your product to capture all the data, to not let anything hit the floor, is the best path to surprising and valuable insight.

IDEO hosts Make-a-thons, not hack-a-thons, to draw a more eclectic group of people together and increase the likelihood of surprising connections and serendipity.

Is your product designed to collect data? Are you actively crafting products to collect data and then using it to make your product better?

4. Grab the Opportunities

You must take the time to look at emergent behaviors on your platform and in the world and empower design teams to be guided by what they find. IFTTT is a great example of a platform design guided by emergence.

Are you really watching? Are you really carving out the time, a day a week, to let your designers look for emergent behaviors?

Next up: Josh Brewer