Many start-ups focus on technology and service ideas. Although there is nothing wrong about coming up with something no one else would, the factor that really makes a big difference between a blasting success and dismal failure could be something else; DESIGN. Why? The answer seems to be very straightforward. Users do not care much about what’s underneath but what they actually do on what they see, what they feel, and what they experience. In other words, it is the quality of design that affects the business results. Design not only the affects the revenue, but also in many cases getting funded or not.
Now that the “technology stack” of the internet has been built up and commoditized, thanks to cloud computing and open source software, startups will find their competitive advantage less in core technology and more in product design and other factors.
From a non-designers perspective: good, well thought-out, and executed design is subliminal, yet very powerful. When it comes to the role of Design for start-ups, there are three aspects to it.
- Product User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) – Regardless of web, mobile, or software, the Ease of Use is one of the biggest key factors for its popularity.
- Marketing – You produce it, and you market it. In order to get a good amount of attention from potential customers to convert them, you need to communicate well with them to get them to know your product.
- Branding – This is how people perceive your product. Great design well serves your product in establishing positive perceptions by potential and current customers.
The 3 Key Roles of Design for Start-ups (also for big ones)
1. Product UI/UX (usability)
For many start-ups, product itself will involve heavily in Deign. When it comes to web/mobile services, design for the product is more important than most of other industries. Especially in this era of countess apps and services produced by a massive amount of start-ups, the major key differentiators could simply be the ease of use.
Imagine how some super simple services such as Twitter, YouTube and Instagram got so popular without having much of hard-to-imitate technologies behind it. What they do is to stick onto the single purpose of the service, and make it easier to use than anyone else on the market. On the other hand, by adding more and more features that sacrifice usability could be fatal. A good example would be Windows Vista. With it’s super hard to use, very confusing UI/UX, its short life has ended before more people get a chance to experience the torture.
The growth of the service isn’t about superior technology, or hype, or anything else–just an excellently designed product. One of the good examples of design-centric product would be Tumblr. Sign up is dead simple and you can have professional looking blog within a matter of seconds, not minutes. Also, it offers an easy way to post everything. Although the Tumblr team has great engineering talent, they more care about design, UI and UX. For consumer web apps today, usability design matters more than technology.
2. Marketing (communication)
When it comes to design for marketing, it will be very powerful to start-ups, simply because you can simply compete with big dogs when you have good design in marketing. Realistically speaking, the majority of marketing activity for start-ups should take place online for obvious reasons. Online marketing gives you a valuable chance to communicate a large number of people quickly, but if you aren’t using good and consistent design with every marketing avenue, then you aren’t getting all you can out of each opportunity.
Online marketing design can include your website design, facebook custom tabs, twitter page, banner ads, email newsletter, or anything that you use online to market your company or services. All of these items give you a great chance to present yourself professionally through quality design.
The biggest key element for online marketing would be your website. A quality website presents a professional company that showcases quality values and services. A poorly designed website shows just the opposite. Even if you offer great products, users aren’t getting the best impression and will make assumptions quickly about who you are. Use the character of your products to determine the style and then use it to your advantage in every place you market. Create a great twitter background, a well-designed Facebook landing page for new visitors, and a beautiful email template to match. Every interaction sends a message to your audience, so make sure they are getting the best one possible.
3. Branding (perception)
You may think a “brand” is only for large companies, but it is actually more important for start-ups. For start-ups, branding can often take a backseat to other considerations, such as funding and product development. This is a mistake, as a company’s brand can be key to its success. It is as important and vital as any other early steps. Inaccurate branding of a new business can make it difficult for people to grasp why the business exists in the first place.
A brand is not just a logo, it is all your ethics and persona-your business culture. A logo is the identifying mark for the brand, while a brand is the emotional response that your audience feeds back about your company. It is the emotion behind what someone feels, sees, tastes, etc when they come across your brand.
A memorable logo is just the beginning—yet an extremely important beginning —that sets the overall tone for your new or existing brand. A brand identity must be unique, memorable and simple in form. It does not need to say exactly what the company does. You need to make sure that people would react in a positive way to your brand identity. Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, is a very useful tool to measure what people perceive your brand. Businesses that get feedback are the ones that use their brands very effectively. Knowing what you excel and fail at will build a stronger, long-lasting brand.
Once you have got a solid branding style, this needs to be implemented consistently across all your branding materials. Not only on your letterhead, business cards and compliment slips, but on your signage, leaflets, brochures, email signatures, PowerPoint presentations and website. It will cost you some money in up-front cost but pay off dividends in respectability. And don’t forget, the logo cannot be altered easily once it’s set. Remember what has happened to brands such as GAP and my____. If you can create consistency with your brand this leads to a comfort zone.
This is a guest blog post by Brandon Hill, CEO of BTRAX, one of our contributing sponsors.