There is no denying it; we are in a time where to found a startup all you really need is an idea. Capital, both financial and human, is easy to come by. Facility space of all types can be attained and repurposed. The Internet has leveled all playing fields. For many founders, having a disruptive product or service that can change an industry is the dream.

But without design, your product or service is worthless.

It’s a harsh truth, but a truth nonetheless. Between all of the important aspects of a building a startup company, one crucial and critical element to its success is design.

What do you think of when you hear the term “Startup”? It depends on who you ask. For many, a tech startup seems to be what comes to the forefront of a conversation. Rightfully so, a tech startup has an easier entrance into the market. More people today are familiar with technology and use tools, systems and entertainment applications that ten years ago didn’t exist. This technology has fundamentally changed our society. So for many, technology is what is associated with startups. Thankfully, the term doesn’t just mean technology. A startup can be in any industry, from games and entertainment to healthcare and finance and so many more.

One thing they all need is smart design. Regardless of industry, design is a cornerstone for startups to initialize and continue their growth and success. Smart founders recognize this and understand they are in a unique position to explore and develop a unique voice and brand. While many startups can borrow ideas and philosophies from disparate sources, their brand and experience needs to be wholly their own in order to succeed. Too often, customers and users of a startup service or product make generalized “like” statements.

“They are like Twitter, but for doctors.”

“It’s like Apple hardware with Heroku cloud services put together.”

“Our product is like Nest and Canary, but for health clubs.”

This isn’t brand building; this is brand falsehood. It’s very easy to describe your startup’s service or product to another branded service or product, but by doing this you automatically create a bias or confusion in what it is you actually do. By co-opting what another entity does as what you do, but different, isn’t branding. It’s lazy and setting yourself up for unnecessary failure. Regardless of what type of industry you are in, here’s how design is integral to your success.

Brand Development – Visual Design

Building a brand is crucial to your startup’s success. By developing your brand and message your legitimacy and attractiveness increase. Solid brands convey seriousness and with startups, there is always an air of uncertainty in their success. Brand message and visual elements are key components to attracting investors and venture capitalists as well as attracting the talent you want to work for you.

Most important, you want a brand that your customers can identify with and recognize. As you startup finds its voice and builds firm business practices and focuses, your brand will evolve over time. Visual designers with a background in brand development and integrated marketing are especially helpful in this area. They can look at where you want to be at in the future and break down the steps and components to get you there. Brand development is more than just visual design however; a good copywriter is also key. Content is King, but design delivers the kingdom.

Web Design

Generally, a good designer will know how to design for both print and web, but this isn’t always the case. Depending on your startup’s goal and industry, you won’t need someone who is a dedicated UX or UI designer, but a very smart and strategic web designer. If your service or product isn’t a web or native application. A web designer can take the work of your visual designers (or be one and the same person) and apply your brand messaging to your website that can be accessed across devices and browsers. At this point in time, there needs to be very specific reasons why you wouldn’t want your website to be responsive. Thus a web designer can create an experience for your customers online that work seamless between desktop and mobile devices.

UX/UI Design

I lump this together, although they both do different things. User interface design (UI) refers to the visual style and development of web and native applications and products that your customers use. If your startup is a web application or a native iOS and Android app, a UI designer is imperative to make sure that not only does your brand messaging still follow through with the interface, but also that it is designed to be easy to use and intuitive for new customers. User experience design (UX) refers to designers who use research and psychology to find the best solutions that contribute to an overall experience when customers use your product or service. They perform testing and gather data to help them discover pain points and pleasure points in your offering. Both are a bit more specialized than a visual designer and web designer, but if you in the business of digital product or service, they are indispensable.

XD and IxD Design

Design Experience designers (XD) works in tandem with UX designers as they focus on larger elements of a startup beyond digital avenues. There is a lot of crossover between UX and XD where the focus is how customers experience a brand, but a XD can work in other arenas, such a physical space and environment. This could mean some focus on physical product development, space layout, environmental design, and storytelling. Interaction designers (IxD) work in similar methods as XD and UX designers work, but focus more on how a service/product should work, and this from research on behavior analysis and testing. These more specialized designers move more away from visual and web design and move more into product design and psychology.

Product & Packaging Design

Product designer work primarily on how the product looks and feels. Their work is often a blend of aesthetic design and engineering. Physical items that we interact with have had a product designer work on how it should look, work, and interact. Packaging design is a specialty that blends visual and product design to create how the product is packaged, stored, shipped and housed. Packaging is highly specialized due to the different materials and substrates that can be utilized for physical products. Packaging designers understand the constraints and methods of how to produce visually appealing and brand-aligned packaging through various packaging options. Depending on your physical product, your packaging can be highly specialized.

It’s quite clear to see the impact of design on building your startup. Regardless of industry and purpose, a startup is a business, and businesses need design thinking to grow. Now, there are a lot great startups that take design very seriously. Companies like Ephrya Group, PLDGIT, Oscar Health Insurance, Primary Healthcare Consultants, and Return Logic are some great examples of startups that get it. In the end, design is just as important and can enhance all other facets of building a startup.


March 20, 2015

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