Jeff Veen: ”Designers and developers have the tools and training to make a lasting impact”
Last, but not least, we welcome Jeff Veen to the speaker line-up. We called him up to ask him some questions about design that can change the world, investing in culture and his talk at From Business to Buttons.
Jeffrey Veen is one of the founders of Adative Path. He also ran Typekit, the company he founded and ran as CEO.
Typekit was later acquired by Adobe, he followed and was for a time VP of design at Adobe. Right now he's a Design Partner at True Ventures working with companies like Medium, about.me and Wordpress.
Hi Jeff! This year FBTB is all about UX, Service Design and Sustainability. About making the world a better place and how design can change society to the better. Do designers have a responsibility in that sense? Is it something you think about in your day-to-day work?
– I believe everyone has that responsibility, but designers and developers have both the tools and training to really make a lasting impact. Much of my work has been focused on what I call democratizing our tools. What I mean by that is that as technology develops over time, we can translate what was once the domain of experts into simpler tools that anyone can use. Examples of this are everywhere: the way people capture images, manipulate them to tell a story, and share that with the people they care about. That's an astonishing amount of technology simplified into something that takes just moments now. But that same principle applies even to professional designers working today: we have access to vast libraries of inspirational creative content from which to synthesize our own work, the ability to collaborate effortlessly with people around the world, frameworks that allow our designs to come to life nearly instantly. It's a remarkable time to be a designer.
What will you talk about on FBTB?
– I've spent over 20 years working as a designer and entrepreneur in tech. It's been a long slow process of integrating the principles of user experience design into the culture of businesses, helping them to make products that better solve problems for their customers. I'm going to share some of my experiences I've had along the way, notably how we used design as the centerpiece for how we structured Typekit, the company I co-founded a few years ago. It's a story of how we invested in culture, to grow a team that trusted and respected each other, and how that lead to a much better product over time. A lot of what I'll talk about can be taken back and applied to teams of any size, regardless of how much emphasis they put on design in their product development process.
One year ago you quit your job at Adobe and joined True Ventures, tell us about how that happened?
– Sure, it's been a great year. I left Adobe after nearly four years of guiding the company through a huge shift in their business model, based largely on the "design tools as a service" model we developed for Typekit. That lead to the launching of Creative Cloud, and that business being one of the fastest growing subscription services to hit US$1 Billion in history. It was a thrilling project to be a part of, but ultimately I knew I'd get back to the startup world, as that's where my passion is.
– I didn't have a strong plan for what was next when I left Adobe. My intent was to take a little time off and look for new, interesting opportunities. As a part of that, I had breakfast with my long-time friend Tony Conrad. He is one of the partners at True Ventures, and lead their investment in Typekit when we financed the company back in 2009. He suggested to me that I might enjoy applying my experience in the industry as an investor at True – which is a direction I never really thought my career would take me. But as we talked, I realized that it could be an interesting way of achieving my long-term goal of helping democratize the tools we use to create our digital world. So I agreed and joined the team.
What do you do at True Ventures?
– I spend part of my time on the investing side, looking for companies that fit into what I call the design stack: everything from powerful graphics tools to infrastructure for delivering content, and even a new class of visual storytelling tools that people are using to compliment social media. I also very much like companies that are using great user experiences to compete in traditionally saturated markets. There's so much opportunity to compete with design now. It's great. The rest of my time I spend with the companies we've invested in, acting as a sort of mentor for founders who are growing teams and hoping to improve the quality of their products. And sometimes we just spend a couple hours at the whiteboard sketching out future product ideas. That's just so much fun.
You have written two books (”HotWired Style” and ”The Art and Science of Web Design”). But it’s been a while since the last one was first published. Are you working on something new to tease the readers about?
– Ha! No, I don't have another book in the works. Turns out writing books is one of the hardest things I've ever done. Years ago, I pointed that creative energy into developing products and found that much more rewarding. Though I have been considering a weekly podcast recently....