Sans the massive R&D budgets of monolithic tech firms, startups have to approach design more creatively.
The rosters are replete with examples of first-rate business concepts that never took flight because of a misguided approach to design. While design is traditionally described as packaging, it is also everything that package does: how the package is experienced, the value it produces, the feeling it creates, and how closely it anticipates the user’s needs and desires. For this reason, startups should view designers as more than creatives—they should be strategic partners who have a grasp of the audience, the goals, and value of a brand. This is something Joshua Porter, Director of UX at Hubspot, described when he said designers whose sole goal is to make something pretty don’t add value to brands however, he notes that those designers who were inclined to solve problems and continue to question problems throughout the design process "invariably created the best design because they had gotten closer to the real problem at hand … the problem their users had.". This kind of strategic approach to design is not shared by all designers. How a startup weeds through design firms with these skills requires considerable understanding of the craft and what it takes to design persuasively. Here is a guide through the process:
Partner or vendor?
It may seem like a simple question, but the implications are layered. Essentially, before business owners begin their selection, they need to throw everything they know about outsourcing out of the window. Farming out tasks without solid, ongoing discussions about how those tasks fit into the big picture are futile. Specifically, startups should target designers who are eager to take part in the roundtable. When capable designers are included in on the discussion of product development and strategy, the UX (user experience) is richer and creates more value, as a result.
Understand the risks
Startups shouldn’t underestimate the role design plays in the strategic plan. In many cases, it can mean the difference between running a well-funded venture and being among the 70-90% of startups that fail. Startup Weekend reports, “Design not only affects the revenue, but also in many cases getting funded or not”.
Just because prospective design firms are self-described experts in user experience doesn’t make it so. What specific training or education do the designers have? What real-world examples can they offer? Do they have experience working with startups? Are they asking questions about your goals and offering a concrete process to get a sense of your brand’s core values? These are critical questions that can help sift out substandard design firms.
Require persuasive design experience
Design firms should know how to create interactive designs. How a product responds to users is a key factor in the overall design package. If customers have to read a full manual before they can use a product, chances are, sales will never take off. Being intuitive to users’ needs and desires is critical to a product’s value. A great startup example of a product that placed quality user experience at the forefront is Hipmunk.
Look for passion
Startups should select a design firm that is as passionate about the startup as they are. If the firm doesn’t ask questions or probe beneath the surface, how well can he or she present the brand to the world?