Q&A with Enrique Allen, co-founder of Designer Fund

Enrique Allen — the co-founder of Designer Fund and a teacher at Stanford’s — is on a mission to rid the world of “shitty user experiences.” Last month, I sat down with him at Designer Fund in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. The space feels more like a home or a lounge than an office. Beautiful posters hang on the walls and books line the shelves next to a small kitchen in the back. Designer Fund invests in design entrepreneurs who are solving problems in markets that traditionally lack design innovation — from healthcare, to education, to energy. Allen and his team also run Bridge, a design education program that connects experienced designers with top tier companies. Through Bridge, designers get paid to work at a startup of their choice and participate in weekly workshops, dinners, and talks.

In Silicon Valley, there’s a very codified system for building engineering teams. Designers, however, still lack a lot of this infrastructure, and Enrique Allen wants to change that. His aim at Designer Fund is to elevate the careers of designers. With Bridge application season underway, I talked to Enrique Allen about the inspiration behind Designer Fund and the promise of design education.

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Strangers, but not that strange

Ankit Shah is the kind of person who asks, “How are you?” and means it. If you say “good,” he’ll ask why. He doesn’t want to know what you do for a living, but how and why you do it. Ankit’s curiosity extends to everyone he talks to. Even strangers. In fact, he’s met over a thousand strangers since founding Tea With Strangers in the spring of 2013. Though some might peg Tea With Strangers as an organization, Ankit prefers to call it a movement. The idea is simple: a website that allows people to sign up to get tea with five strangers, one of whom is a “host” that gently guides the conversation.

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The Future of Media on Snapchat: A design concept

When Evan Spiegel gave a talk at Yale last month, he told a room full of students that “the next year is going to be a lot about media on Snapchat. Broadcast media.”

One week later, Snapchat launched Snapcash—a feature that allows users to easily send money to their friends. Many in the press characterized it as a Venmo competitor. But Snapcash isn’t just about P2P payments. Now that users can spend money via Snapchat, the company has created a whole new set of opportunities for itself. I mocked up a concept for how big media companies could use Snapcash to create pay-per-view live streams on Snapchat. 

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No Strong Feelings

User interface designers work in a world of pixels, and perfectionism is part of their job description. They notice if an icon is slightly off-center, if the line-height of a text block is a little tight, if the border radius on a button is too large. Designers are opinionated, and they’re not easily satisfied.

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On Snapchat

My parents refer to Snapchat as the “sexting app,” but no one I know uses it to share photos of their nether regions. The app, which allows people to send self-destructing picture and video messages to their friends, is for me a G-rated destination. Its bright yellow icon features a faceless ghost that greets me each time I unlock my iPhone.

Towards the end of 2011, my friend Lauren told me to download Snapchat. The two of us met in Ecuador four summers ago on the sort of volunteer trip that some students use as fodder for their college essays. Lauren and I talked for hours every day—under the stars in the Andes, on the beaches of the Galapagos Islands, in the streets of Quito. After four weeks, we hugged goodbye beside a baggage claim carousel in Miami.

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A conversation with Mark Kawano, Storehouse CEO & former Apple designer

Note: This post was originally published on the True Ventures blog.

Mark Kawano is an idea machine. This summer, I had the pleasure of working with him as an intern at a startup called Storehouse—a visual storytelling platform. Mark started his career as a designer at Adobe, where he worked on the Creative Suite for several years. He then went on to join Apple as a designer and a User Experience Evangelist before founding Storehouse in 2013.

Most photo services are the digital equivalent of throwing your photos into a shoebox in the closet. Platforms like Facebook and Flickr force your photos into a grid of uniformly-sized thumbnails, or worse, a slideshow. And apps like Instagram and Snapchat are about moment sharing, one photo at a time, rather than storytelling.

If Instagram is a word, then Storehouse is a sentence. The Storehouse app allows people to combine photos, videos, and text in a magazine-like layout and easily craft a narrative around the content they care about. I sat down with Mark to get his take on starting a company, the role of design, and the future of publishing.

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What It’s Like to Lock Eyes With a Stranger for Five Straight Minutes

“You here for the workshop?” asks a woman in a purple button-down shirt. I nod. She lets me through the doors of a co-working space in downtown San Francisco, and I walk upstairs to a room full of silent strangers.

“Alright people,” says Eric Waisman, the founder of a company called Jaunty—an “education dojo for human relations” that organizes workshops on social intelligence.

He speaks with the confidence of a magician who’s about to unveil an unbelievable trick. “For the next five minutes, you’re going to stare into the eyes of the person next to you.” Nervous laughter ripples across the room. “Oh,” he adds, “and no talking.”

Then, he rings a tiny gong and starts his clock.

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The Metaphor I Left Behind

When Steve Jobs stepped on stage during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, I couldn’t look away. As a kid, I loved to plop myself down in front of a computer screen and watch Jobs’ keynote addresses. There’s one line of his in particular that has stuck with me:

Apple stands at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts.

In middle school and high school, academic subjects lived in their own little silos—separated by the bells that rang between class periods. The idea that liberal arts and technology could intersect seemed both foreign and exciting to me at the time. I adopted the phrase for my own use and began describing myself as someone who stood at the “intersection” of technology, design, music, and writing. I didn’t want to have to choose just one. It wasn’t until recently that I started to second guess my decision to co-opt the “interests as intersection” metaphor.

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Why Interruption is Key to Good Conversation

The students in a mechanical engineering class I took last semester were separated by 300 miles. Three kids from Yale and three from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) came together to re-imagine what patient identification should look like in the 21st century.

The two groups met in the flesh only twice throughout the whole semester: once at the beginning and once in the middle. The rest of our interactions happened entirely over video chat. In the beginning, we thought that this video-only approach wouldn’t cause any problems. But we were quickly proved wrong.

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The Case for Walking Meetings

When I met Nick Winter in downtown San Francisco, he wasn’t wearing shoes. His dress pants and V-neck sweater kept him from looking completely homeless. Nick, a 28 year-old author and entrepreneur, wrote a book called The Motivation Hacker that follows his three month quest to achieve as many goals as possible: from launching a successful startup, to learning to throw knives, to skydiving, to running a marathon, and many more.

A few weeks ago, I suggested that he and I sit down for coffee. Always the adventurer, Nick instead decided we should go on a walking burrito breakfast. We covered a lot of ground (both physically and metaphorically) as we talked about his collection of crazy experiences. The content of the conversation was fascinating, but there was also something remarkable about the fact that we were in motion. If I could have it my way, I’d never go on a non-walking meeting again.

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