Design in your Start-up

While there are many hurdles a young company needs to overcome to be successful, design need not be one of them. 

 Assemble the right team

So many times startups have asked me about hiring UX designers. Often founders think that by hiring a UX designer all their design challenges will go away. Some founders think they can unload all design issues on a UX designer, freeing the founders up to do other things. This is both short-sighted and naive thinking.  While I encourage the hiring of UX staff, it is impossible for one person to make all the design related decisions.  Why is that?  Delivering a product to market is a team effort and most decisions are interdependent. For example business strategy decisions will impact which features are packaged in the first release of the product, and thus the design. So design is tightly coupled with the business strategy, marketing and development efforts. The right team is one that recognizes the interdependence of decisions and are able to work together to ensure the right strategy, marrying production vision with immediate execution.  To hire a designer, consider adding a person with breadth of skills who can contribute to the product strategy rather than providing only one skill like graphic design.

Learn design thinking

The right team armed with the right knowledge will move mountains.  By learning design thinking your startup core team will be able to clearly define problems, explore solutions, develop concepts and recognize ways to evaluate ideas quickly. These are the essential skills needed to evaluate your business strategy and also to recognize when to pivot to a new strategy.  Design thinking is more about strategic thinking than it is about design.  Google Ventures has an in-house team of expert designers to who have honed a technique called the 'Design Sprint'.  At Google Ventures these experts coach and facilitate teams through learning design thinking.  If you aren't familiar with design thinking seek help through books, mentoring or training

Learn to listen and observe

Listening at the right moments can be crucial for your business.  Learn how to listen to and observe sales prospects to get a sense of what they really think of your product or concept. Driven entrepreneurs can switch into 'sales mode' and push hard for an early sale not comprehending that a crucial learning opportunity may have been wasted. Feedback is hard to get from customers, as a founder and decision maker you are in the best position to listen, observe, assimilate, and act on early feedback. It is crucial that founders learn the basics of effective customer research. When in a situation where a prospect has some early feedback, the best question you can ask is 'why'.  

  • Why do you feel that way?
  • Why do you expect that feature?
  • Why would you need...?

Asking why shows you are interested, but more importantly allows you to dig for meaning.  Learning to listen and observe is hard and again seek help through books, mentoring or training.

 User and Task Analysis for Interface Design - Hacko & Reddish

While design is not the only critical skill needed for your start-ups success, there is no reason design should diminish your chances. Start-up incubators and accelerator programs typically have access to the design expertise your startup needs. Find the help you need your success may depend on it.