I’m Bek Stone, partner and design chief at Combine, a venture firm in San Francisco helping entrepreneurs establish design as an early competitive advantage.
I’ve spent my career helping build extraordinary businesses, both new to market and loved by millions. I’m drawn to the earliest stages of company creation—defining strategy, brand expression, and the systems necessary to evolve and scale.
Today, I work alongside amazing partners to serve a new wave of entrepreneurs. I’m passionate about equality and partnership, and motivated to help the full spectrum of underrepresented founders gain access to funding and support.
I live in Oakland with my partner Zak, a ridiculous beastie, and an army of plant babies. When not rocking business pants, I can be found composing music, designing jewelry and apparel, or carving through the Redwoods on a Moto Guzzi named Fusa.
The infinite parade of glowing rectangles can cloud our view, but products are in service of people. Human connection is the best cure for our assumptions. Curiosity and empathy build bridges—fueling the research and synthesis that are core to great product design.
Great endings inspire great beginnings. What will your legacy be? Will you proudly sign your name? Crystallizing the outcome enables us to define how to achieve it, measure progress, and anticipate many of the changing conditions to come.
When it comes to making, processes vary greatly. One constant is the need for large blocks of uninterrupted time to focus. In an increasingly open environment with diverse disciplines, establishing clear boundaries leads to fruitful outcomes and happy teams.
Iterative feedback and collaboration directly equate to product quality. Ask hard questions, find the holes, swap files, and gain new perspectives. Use prototyping and testing to address issues early on and illuminate new opportunities.
Product design is an endless negotiation of necessary compromises, but constraints never deter the ingenious. A dedication to craft and relentless commitment to differentiate produce not just great, but groundbreaking results.
Reflection is the ultimate catalyst for growth. Retrospectives, coaching, one-on-ones, and time budgeted for introspection are ingredients essential to perpetual development. The best product teams prioritize learning from experience, and everyone benefits.
Building the Design Language System powering Airbnb innovation.
In January of 2015, I joined Airbnb. While the design team of 20 that could fit snugly around a whiteboard would quadruple before my departure less than a year and a half later, a signature climate of warmth never faltered.
Up until this point, Airbnb had grown organically. The widely publicized rebrand six months prior had catapulted an already-valuable service into the “internet darling” stratosphere. 2015 would usher in the company’s first significant investment in global marketing, further extending its reach. Internally, teams were working and growing at a feverish pace.
By July, product design had more than doubled in size. Teams and initiatives across the org struggled to stay in sync. Web, iOS, Android, and Watch each had unique designs and codebases. We needed a shared language and a stable and performant foundation to withstand continued growth.
Our goal was to create a universal design system and I was given the green light to build a dedicated team.
As the founding members began to research and audit, I set out to connect with leaders across the organization to gain understanding, exchange ideas, and develop shared goals for our future. Armed with insights, I drafted our first vision and guiding principles and set the growing team loose to explore and create.
Fonts would be scaled up for legibility. Color contrast boosted to meet new accessibility benchmarks. Bold accents introduced pacing and illustrations rang harmonious with our expanding icon system. Movement brought life. A visual language emerged—vibrant, clear, and as animated and conversational as the dinner table.
Running in parallel were two initiatives introducing radical changes to flows across all platforms. The success of these colossal efforts hinged on having a sound and iconic system to build upon. Quality cannot be defined by external characteristics alone. Reliability and performance are inextricable traits, and required tremendous cooperation across product, engineering, and design to achieve. We focused our efforts on mobile to lead the way.
Equipped with new requirements and our drafted brand language, design leads and executives from our cross-functional teams headed offsite to hash out the first version of Airbnb’s Design Language System. Teams began testing, breaking, and submitting improvements. As the system solidified, I guided adoption, integration, and continued evolution across product teams.
As with any great endeavor, this one too had to travel the difficult but transformative path of discovery. No one solution could meet all needs, and no process could satisfy all those involved. More valuable than the system created were the people it aimed to serve. At last, a shared language was beginning to bridge the gap between disciplines, and something altogether more beautiful was unfolding.
With the rollout underway and an able team in place, I departed from Airbnb—one month before the public launch in April, 2016. The team and their work continue to flourish, driving a greater level of continuity and cross-functional collaboration.
Laying a new foundation and rebuilding a home with a growing family inside was no small feat, and there were countless challenges and opportunities for the organization to learn along the way. In the end, a once small and mighty team empowered Airbnb to scale in new ways—each step more humane than the last.
Alex Schleifer, Adam Michela, Karri Saarinen, Michael Bachand, Paul Kompfner, Sean Abraham, Salih Abdul-Karim, Michael Sui, Jing Jian, Britt Nelson, Hannah Hughes, Luke Carter, Stephen Wyatt Bush.
Katie Dill, Amber Cartwright, Allen Mask, Taido Nakajima, Katie Chen, Adam Glynn-Finnegan, Kevin Grennan, Alvin Hsia, Shane Allen, Charlie Aufmann.
A Design System to Take on the World
by Tanya Combrinck
The Way We Build
by Alex Schleifer
Creating the Airbnb Design System
by Karri Saarinen
Communicating Clarity and Charm
by Google Design
Highlights from humanizing brands and digital experiences, constructing environments, and exploring physical forms and materials.
Bek is one of those rare leaders that boldly balances hands-on relevancy with clear visioned execution.
Principal Product Designer, Real Labs
A shining star in a sea of sameness, an invigorator, an inspiration.
Director, Venture Visuals
At Airbnb, Bek took on some of the hardest design and business problems using her skills to get everyone, from the CEO to her engineering counterparts bought in.
Design, Sidewalk Labs
As magnetic as she is humble, Bek rallies teams to solve problems with systems thinking, minimalism, curiosity, and diagrams of happiness curves.
Michael Austin Sui
Inclusive Design Lead, Airbnb
Bek is just one of the most well-rounded, human-centric, passionate leaders you’ll meet. She inspires people to be better — that’s her superpower.
Experience Design Lead, Airbnb