It's now established wisdom in the venture capital community that design is critical for the health, success, and longevity of emerging startups. And perhaps nothing validates this trend more than Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers' annual Design in Tech report, launched last year by KPCB Design Partner John Maeda.

The report says that "of the 2015 Fortune 100, over ten percent place design as an executive priority." Not only Apple but household names like Target and Pepsi now make strategic hires of senior design and innovation officers. Accordingly, consulting firms like Deloitte, Accenture, and McKinsey have acquired smaller studios to expand their design and innovation expertise.

As Maeda rightly forecasts, the result of this increased attention will be a reboot of the design industry and increased opportunities for design studios large and small. From my view inside the design industry what's most interesting is how some designers are using this increased attention to find new and more strategic ways to help companies grow, particularly in the startup ecosystem. 

Just as major brands are acquiring smaller design studios to bolster their credibility and vertically integrate design into their businesses, VC firms are leveraging design strategically in their investment portfolios. We believe the next step in this evolution is for design firms to stake themselves into the startup ecosystem directly, as long-term equity partners and business builders. 

The driver of this trend is that even as demand for design grows, the supply of talented designers remains tight. The challenge then is to find more ways for designers (and the teams assembled around them) to add sustained value to a broader set of companies. In doing so there is an opportunity for designers to redefine and expand the role design can play for their clients and partners. 

At argodesign we've structured our product consultancy around long-term equity relationships with high-growth firms, and our hope is that we can enable a much broader set of emerging companies to have access to world-class design expertise. Being involved in the investment side of the equation is also empowering, driving us to deliver value to our clients beyond design and allowing us to lead in areas where in the past design firms may have just observed or consulted.

But, into the executive seat and onto the cap table also means designers will be held more and more accountable for the success or failure of the products and businesses in which they are involved. Jonathan Ive became synonymous with Apple when he was promoted to oversee human interface design across the company in 2012. More recently, Uber's head of design left after the firm's ambitious re-branding was savaged online.

To succeed in the board room let alone keep their new roles, designers will need to cultivate both creative and leadership skills bringing with them not just their ideas but also the means to see them through to implementation. At a recent launch event for the Design in Tech report, held at Airbnb's airy headquarters in San Francisco, Maeda spoke of designers evolving from individual contributors to business leaders. Katie Dill, head of experience design at Airbnb, described her rapidly growing team iterating its own work process every three months. 

Design firms should take this to heart and develop consulting models that can thrive in the frenetic and often unpredictable pace of design and business today.  Designers and design firms can and should stretch themselves and impose themselves to find new ways to create business value within the companies they work.

This year's Design in Tech Report demonstrates that the business world is finally comfortable with design driving elements of corporate strategy rather than the other way around. Companies like Under Armour and Square are already seeing the benefits that come with breaking down the silos that hinder the development and impact of thoughtfully designed products and experiences. It will be exciting to watch how other startups and established companies continue to do the same in the coming year.