First 7 rules for start-up design

By Hadas Drachli

It’s almost impossible to ignore design nowadays. More and more companies ascribe as much importance to the design as to the product itself. This concept is even more apparent in the start-up world – a virtual product, a never before seen idea, new modules and algorithms, special applications code, smart search engines – the start-up products are new ideas to the audience and might be challenging for the non-technological audience. A poor design will manage to confuse even the greatest technophiles.

So how do we find the right person to design a software or hardware idea?

A successful design takes the vision of the engineer, programer, entrepreneur or investor, and presents it to the user in the most friendly and clear to understand way possible, that will also be impeccably aesthetic.


So, what is design?
Design includes numerous fields. Simplified, it can be described as an action that has the potential solve any visual difficulty in the virtual of physical world.
Each product has an idea behind it, a story holding an experience. A successful design works in collaboration with this story, promotes it, highlights it, supports it and creates reliability. The design is the story – visually.

In the physical world, the experience is three dimensional. You can touch the product and feel it. When purchasing a refrigerator or a washing machine, the external aesthetic is clear, the main function is familiar, and the sub-functions will be explained through the accompanying booklet. We usually also know the reputation of the brand. All this data creates the image of the product for us.

In the start-up world, the experience is virtual. All the details, starting from function to reliability, are transferred via the digital design and the interactive user experience. The product itself might be composed of thousands of details and functions. The design is the visual mirror image of the product, and it includes all the visual elements of the story behind it – the logo and slogan, website, application, fonts and typography, color scheme, icons, buttons, various modules and the arrangement of everything on the screen – they all come together to create the interactive image for the user.

Here are a few hardly-earned-through-experience principles that might help you find the right designer for your digital product and maximize the benefits from working together:

1 – Digital Thinking – A digital designer for a start-up company’s product needs to think interactively. Got a recommendation? Go to the designer’s website and check it out. Can you find your way easily? Is the design style clear and fits your needs? Some designers master one style, while other adopt a few. Be that as it may, each project should be unique. Mastering one style isn’t necessarily a disadvantage, but if all the projects seem to be of the same mold, its probably not the design you’re looking for. After the initial examination, stop and check yourselves – what was your experience during this time? Do you feel like you’d like to keep on looking at stuff? Did it move you to act (click)? How are the various elements presented on screen? Too crowded/spacious? A mess or in harmony?

2 – A digital designer for a start-up company needs technical knowledge – it’s no secret that designers and programmers think differently. It’s recommended to choose a designer with some basic ability to read/write code and not just create visuals – even if this knowledge sums up to simple css & html capabilities. In order to plan a successful graphical user interface (GUI) the designer needs to understand what can be accomplished and how, and the greater this understanding is – the more friendly and clear to the user will the final product be. In the start-up world, with its rigid deadlines and launch dates, with regularly updated software versions, a designer that can collaborate with the development team and speak in the same language will save you time and money, and will make the difference between a successful product launched on time and a not so successful product that’s also delayed.

3 – Understanding processes and seeing the big picture – A designer for a start-up company need to know how to see and position things in space. A physical product design doesn’t have to be in context or collaborate with its specific environment. It can, of course, but it can also act as a standalone product. When we’re dealing with digital product design (much like broadcast design for TV) – the product is always a part of its digital environment. Designing an interface for a website or an application demands spatial perception to position the elements on frame, and for the continuity of the actions through every screen. Each stage/page/screen needs to guide and lead the user toward the end action.

4 – Listening – A digital designer for a start-up company needs to be able to listen to the entrepreneur or idea-person, understand the idea through and through, ask questions, and never take anything for granted. Today marketeers are certainly not the only ones to acknowledge the importance of design – the entrepreneurs wish to take active part in the design process, and rightly so. A digital product is an idea that needs elaborate breakdown and conceptualization, and it’s crucial to find a designer that will listen and understand the idea, and not waste precious time. In the exact same way, you should listen as well. A designer can bring new insights, to the point of changing the core idea. A digital designer brings years of interactive experience. Of course you don’t need to blindly accept every idea, but there’s a good chance you can make good use of some of them.

5 – Patience – You, the inventors, already have and idea you’ve processed and turned endlessly. You’ve disassembled and reconstructed it and its clear to you from beginning to the end. You’ve managed to raise funds and recruit the development team, and you took a short breath of air. When you reach the actual development and design, the impatience is at its highest, and its easy to give up and cut corners. A good designer will do their best to meet your schedules, but always remember that a successful deign demands a lot of planning ahead. The designer is not the entrepreneur, investor or developer, but they are the person that transforms your idea from the realm of imagination into the digital reality. Its important to be patient and tolerant, and if you’re not sure your idea was completely transferred – repeat, be even more precise, on each step, again and again: what are the products capabilities and function, who’s the target audience, how do you see your product, and any other detail that is important to you. Its the last chance you get to run over the logic behind the product before it takes its digital form. Use it.

6 – Freedom to act – Choose a designer you trust completely, and that’s not relevant to start-ups alone. You did the research, you meticulously chose a designer that meets your every demand – trust them, and trust your own choice. A good designer that is given more freedom to act and suggest will gladly accept the professional responsibility, will be more invested in the product and supply you with more new creative ideas you didn’t see before. At the end of the day, if you give a designer more freedom to do their thing, they’ll see themselves as an integral part of the project. Highly recommended.

7 – Complexity vs Simplicity – No matter how complex the product is and how sophisticated the target market is, a digital design’s main strength is its simplicity. A successful design will transfer a complex idea in a way that will be simple even to the least technological person you could imagine. A good designer will take this complexity and convert it into a series of simple and easy to understand actions. Unlike the finality of a physical product, a digital product is constantly updated. Because of that, the simplicity should be internal as much as external. Not just the interactions with the user, but the inner logic of the actions. Integrating a designer in the development planning stage, together with the rest of the development team, can give you priceless added value – logic simplicity. If your product is constructed by a simple set of actions and clear logic, it will be much easier and quicker to add, change and update characteristics in the future, that are bound to happen.

8 – Trendiness – Any product, digital or not, is contemporary. The digital world holds trends just like any other field, and a good designer will always stay up to date with the recent trends, as well as be familiar with the previous ones, and will be able to recommend the right design style for your product’s story and the business model you chose.

9 – Cost – The million dollar question (or slightly less). Like every premium service – a successful designer will probably charge a higher price. The price incorporates the eight previously stated principles, but despite the fact that experience and professional level might save a lot of time and money in the long run – a high starting price could be deterring – and is not always justified.
How can you know if the price estimation you received isn’t too high? The range is as wide as the number of designers, and it’s very hard to tell the difference beforehand. So after going through the previous eight principles and receiving a price estimation, see what it includes. Is the designer the kind that finishes one project and jumps to the next? Or is he/she willing to stay and escort the project the whole nine yards? What are the rates they suggest for work outside the defined project? What’s the level of commitment and involvement they are willing to take upon themselves, and what will be the cost? Check how many projects do they operate simultaneously. It’s worthwhile and important to have involvement, presence and commitment to your project, and on a long term.
The stage your start-up is at can take an important role here; If you’re just at the beginning and under budget restrictions, your needs could be satisfied by a new designer with less experience and lower rates. If you’re further ahead, it might be financially beneficial to stretch your budget and hire a more experienced designer. Also, you can always try to find an experienced designer that will believe in the product and will be willing to work under lower rates for future options.

Final note
A connection with a successful, experienced professional designer, that can keep up with your deadlines and is easy and fun to work with, and fits your budget – is possible. True, it’s not a Catholic wedding, but its not that far either. As far as a digital product goes, the design stage is never over after the first launch, and you should invest efforts and resources to locate such a designer, that will save you a lot of time, money and headaches along the road.