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AMA: Ben Blumenfeld, Co-Founder of Designer Fund (formerly designer at Facebook)

over 4 years ago from , Cofounder

Hey Designer News,

I'm Ben - one of the founders of Designer Fund along with Enrique Allen. Over the past few years we've invested in startups co-founded by designers through our seed fund, helped build and develop design teams through Bridge and organized community events to help designers share best practices.

Before Designer Fund I was a designer and design manager at Facebook for almost 6 years where I helped build things like the Facebook Platform, the communication design team, and a lot of new user onboarding/education. I have also worked in-house at CBS and as a designer and design manager at design/development agencies.

Currently I think a lot about how we get better designed products and services into the world and happy to discuss design entrepreneurship, design education, or anything else that interests you all so thanks for having me!

I'll begin answering questions Thursday, October 1 at 11:00am PST

33 comments

  • Patrick Cho, over 4 years ago

    What advice do you have regarding leading from the bottom? In other words, how do you practice leadership when you're not in an official position of leadership? (Jr. designer, intern, etc)

    Especially if you feel your direct manager/supervisor doesn't have strong leadership skills, have bad taste, and you disagree with their design direction?

    3 points
    • Ben Blumenfeld, over 4 years ago

      We actually talk and write about this a lot. This article from Kate Aronowitz has some great insights - http://designerfund.com/bridge/get-the-design-career-you-want/

      Ultimately it's about leading by example - you don't need to be a manager to lead. When I first joined Facebook I went to every team lead in the company - head of HR, head of Sales, etc. and asked them what they would do if they had design resources. I then tried little experiments to give them some of my design time to see if it would yield results and if so I'd share that with the design team. My manager didn't tell me to do this but it demonstrated a willingness to collaborate with the rest of the organization to the entire design team. Look for those kinds of opportunities where possible.

      You could also have an honest conversation with your manager and give them helpful/constructive feedback. Managers don't get this nearly enough.

      7 points
  • joe andersonjoe anderson, over 4 years ago

    What's the biggest skillset designers are lacking today and how can we fix that?

    2 points
    • Ben BlumenfeldBen Blumenfeld, over 4 years ago

      We wrote a bit about this here - https://medium.com/bridge-collection/going-pro-d3a99db629e9 - and i'll quote one paragraph as I think it captures it really accurately -

      "Startups tend to be places where you have to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Beyond expanding the realm of design skills you’ll need, they can often require you to fill other completely different roles as well. It’s not uncommon for designers to need to take on recruiting, public speaking, or even sales for brief periods of times at top startups. “Not my job” is simply not an acceptable answer for designers at top startups."

      More specifically skills designers could be getting more of - prototyping/coding skills, working with data, leadership skills (think public speaking, collaboration, etc. - this is a big reason we started Bridge , working with engineering, user research, and frankly many designers could level up in basic fundamentals like color, type, etc.

      How we fix that will take a collective effort by designers and design schools everywhere. We took it upon ourselves to start a professional development program for designers, Framer is hosting meetups and videos to educate designers, etc. Designers who have these skills/knowledge need to take the time and energy to give back to the broader design community so we can help fill the huge need for design talent that currently exists.

      5 points
  • Patrick Cho, over 4 years ago

    Hey Ben! As a designer in the agency & advertising space, I've always wondered if I should transition to work on products rather than client work. Do you think right now is a great time to switch? What skills do you think agency designers should develop in order to succeed in the product world?

    1 point
    • Ben Blumenfeld, over 4 years ago

      It's a personal decision and really comes down to what you value. Agencies are great places to get breadth of work and be around many designers. They usually aren't a great place to go deep on one problem, work together with engineers to ship products, ship a product and iterate on it, etc. If those are experiences you crave then yes now would be a great time for you to switch :) There are also many great startups seeking designers so it's a great time from that standpoint as well.

      2 points
  • Ash AdamsonAsh Adamson, over 4 years ago

    Hey Ben! Great to see you on here. Really interested on your view of design entrepreneurship.

    What unique properties do you believe positions a design led startup over a traditional startup? How do you see them treat problem solving differently? What are design led advantages and disadvantages for a startup?

    1 point
    • Ben Blumenfeld, over 4 years ago

      Oh wow the ol' 3 questions in 1 - good work. A "design led" startup - one that really values design and is often cofounded by a designer - usually has design permeating not just the product but the entire company. This means employee onboarding, the physical space, even HR documents have intentionality behind them. So the result is those companies usually have employees that feel cared for, clients/customers that feel cared for, etc.

      Design is inherently an exercise in effective problem solving so those companies tend to actually have good processes when tackling problems: think research, iteration, etc. so that's a huge advantage.

      The disadvantage can often arise when design led companies chooses to focus on the wrong things given their limited resources. For example if your product doesn't work you don't want to be spending weeks designing beautiful HR documents. Design led companies really need to be good at prioritizing and knowing when to let certain things go.

      3 points
  • Tareq IsmailTareq Ismail, over 4 years ago

    Hello Ben! I'm planning to apply to the Bridge program this year and preparing my application. Any tips? I'm assuming the portfolio is probably the most important link to share? I was planning to create a 1 pager that describes my experience/story, do you think that would help? Thanks!

    0 points
  • Patrick Cho, over 4 years ago

    What questions do you recommend I ask a more experienced designer/mentor to learn from their experience, process and mistakes? I recently approached a more experienced designer to be my mentor and I was clueless where to start!

    0 points
    • Ben Blumenfeld, over 4 years ago

      So meta - some questions i like to ask - What are some things you wished you would have done differently in your career? What are some things you know now that you would have told yourself when you got started? What are risks you took that paid off? Looking back what were key insights that helped you succeed? What goals did you have that guided your career choices? Is there anyone else you think I should talk to that I could learn from?

      Also mentors are great for accountability - if you set specific goals and know you're going to meet with someone in 2 months and they'll ask if you met those goals that's really powerful.

      1 point
  • Chris Lam, over 4 years ago

    Hey Ben,

    One thing that's been on my mind for quite a while is: How can we as a design community address diversity in tech and design? I always feel like women and minorities aren't necessarily celebrated or get the recognition they deserve.

    Has this topic ever come up internally at Designer Fund?

    0 points
  • Tareq IsmailTareq Ismail, over 4 years ago

    Hi Ben, another question: Do you think designers should keep a blog that shares their thoughts, approach, and experiences? Let's assume the content and writing is fairly high quality and of course it's something you actually enjoy doing at least a little.

    Possible concerns:

    (1) Keep a blog up to date is a lot of work. As design patterns change and even one's own opinion changes, posts will start to feel outdated. Do you think that could be detrimental when viewed by a possible employer/investor?

    (2) It's hard to get noticed, especially nowadays. I started my own blog on Medium and although it's got a bit of traction within Medium's network, it's not much. Do you think a blog adds value for possible employers/investors even if it doesn't get much traffic?

    0 points
    • Ben Blumenfeld, over 4 years ago

      In general yes and Medium is a great place to do it. Knowing that you can clearly and effectively communicate your thoughts is a wonderful skill that most companies value. Writing is also a great way to force you to articulate your thoughts and so even if you shared it with no one I think it's still a valuable thing to do.

      2 points
  • Patrick Cho, over 4 years ago

    What is something you purchased recently under a $100 that significantly improved your life? how so?

    Thanks for doing this btw :)

    0 points
    • Ben Blumenfeld, over 4 years ago

      A headspace subscription - https://www.headspace.com/buy - took me from meditating once or twice a week to 3-4 times a week. I'm hoping to get to the point where it becomes a real daily habit but haven't gotten there yet. It's amazing how much 10 minutes of focus and calm can change your mood, tone, health, etc.

      1 point
  • Mate Rauscher, over 4 years ago

    Hi Ben, thanks for doing this AMA.

    If you were to start your career today as a beginner designer with a huge passion for entrepreneurship what would you do in the next 5 years?

    0 points
    • Ben BlumenfeldBen Blumenfeld, over 4 years ago

      Go work at a company that lets you see into the operations beyond design. Facebook was really good about this even when we were a few hundred people and in fact many other startups would be great places for someone that wants to start a company in the future.

      Also start reading about topics beyond design. For example the First Round Review - http://firstround.com/review/ - is a great resource for things like building great teams, products, sales, etc.

      I would also find people you admire and do whatever you can to understand what makes them successful.

      Lastly read - http://www.designerfounders.com/

      1 point
  • Lucas ColussoLucas Colusso, over 4 years ago

    As any developing field, digital designers are specializing. What do you think are going to be the Design subdomains in software companies in the future?

    0 points
    • Ben BlumenfeldBen Blumenfeld, over 4 years ago

      I think designers will have to go beyond the screen more in the future. This is everything from VR to experience/systems design that brings online/offline experiences together. Designing a pretty webpage is one thing, but designing a cohesive system of offline/online interactions or a virtual world to interact with takes a different level of design complexity. I also see more designers getting into industrial design/hardware as the ability to do that sort of design becomes more accessible.

      0 points
  • Patrick Cho, over 4 years ago

    What three books do you recommend for those looking to become a better designer. (Doesn't have to be related with craft or technical skills)

    Throwing a barrage of questions here.. I know..

    0 points
    • Ben Blumenfeld, over 4 years ago

      Oh man so many. My go to books for someone just getting into it are Design of Everyday things, Elements of Typographic Style, and something by Dan Ariely or Daniel Kahneman that deals with decision making like Predictably Irrational or Thinking, Fast and Slow.

      I also think designers should be reading fiction to get them to think beyond what's immediate and near. For example I really Ready Player One as a way to think about what VR could be.

      2 points
  • Daniel SchutzsmithDaniel Schutzsmith, over 4 years ago

    Ben, thanks for doing an AMA! Long time, no see friend.

    Could you share with us some of the tips you think a designer should take to embark on becoming a design entrepreneur while working a FT job?

    0 points
  • Max LindMax Lind, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

    Designer Fund -

    Do you find yourself getting more excited/interested in one project over another? Especially as you watch new startups arise and existing startups grow.

    Bridge -

    Do you see more designers growing their current aesthetic or pivoting to a new style during the program? I'm curious how working in that environment enhances learning or changes their thought process.

    Thanks Ben!

    0 points
    • Ben BlumenfeldBen Blumenfeld, over 4 years ago

      You guys are good at getting 2 and 3 for 1s!

      Re getting more excited about one project over another - sure but not in the way that you'd expect. We really tend to invest only in companies that we're really excited about so whenever they reach out with a design problem we tend to get excited about helping out. The difficultly is more in the context switching and prioritizing as we could easily be excited about working full time with any of our companies.

      With regards to Bridge - the program focuses more on higher level skills for experienced designers so what we see are designers growing in ways that go beyond visual design. These are things like new methods for collaboration, confidence in story telling, prototyping methods, effective management and communication, etc.

      0 points
  • Nicholas HendrickxNicholas Hendrickx, over 4 years ago (edited over 4 years ago )

    Hi Ben, nice to meet you.

    I have two difficult and specific questions on my mind as I'm looking at a potential design management function.

    Do you have tips how to organise and prioritise design work as a design manager when faced with limited resources—i.e. a small team—and a wide variety of design tasks, such as product, marketing and client-oriented project design?

    How do you turn a tough design challenge in something positive when there are different views and opinions that seem to be impossible to unite? How do you work towards something can be satisfied with?

    Thanks!

    0 points