Design for startups is so much more than just product design. Learn how and why to use design to help your online venture grow.
Design is important for any business, but arguably, with modern tech startups, its significance is even higher. Without a physical storefront, startups have to rely on graphic design to attract and retain customers.
We’re looking at ways good graphic design benefits startups in particular, with some real-life examples for illustration.
Why do startups need good design?
Design is at the heart of a startup’s success. Below, we’ll outline the areas in which design has an impact on business. But before that, we need to explain why design is more important for startups than perhaps any other type of (small) business.
Many startup owners adopt the build-first approach, focusing on the technology, rather than the real-life problems of their target market. This way, any venture is more likely to turn into a passion project than a successful startup.
A design-driven approach means that founders are focused on education, awareness and problem-solving before a single wireframe is produced. And, a design-driven approach delivers results.
The 2018 design survey conducted by McKinsey & Co surveyed over 300 companies from different industries and found that the companies who adopted a design-driven approach (had a high McKinsey design index (MDI)), outperformed the rest by far.
These are the key areas of good design that impact MDI:
Analytical leadership: a design-driven approach means taking an interest in what they need, as opposed to what they might say they want.
User experience: Before a product becomes a reality, you need to think about designing a complete and positive user experience; this means predicting the way users will interact with your brand/product, from the very first time they hear about it, to after they’ve become a paying customer.
Cross-functional talent: for startups, design should be a collaborative effort; marketers, writers, sales teams, as well as CEOs should all work together to be able to provide an effective solution to the user’s problems.
Continuous iteration: a design-driven approach also means a constant need for improvement; even the biggest players from the tech industry constantly adapt and improve their products and services, so it’s integral for a startup to constantly adapt according to the customers’ needs.
It connects products to users
All of the above points can be translated to almost any type of business. But the most important benefit of design for tech startups is that it connects businesses (or products) with their users.
You may think that giants such as Apple or Google made it thanks to cutting-edge technology. Well, you’re not wrong. But before the technology was cutting-edge, in fact, before there was any talk of technology, these people understood what really matters: people.
It sounds cheesy, but it’s really true. Thousands of lines of code, or exceptionally sophisticated products are useless if no one wants, or needs to use them. Design, from user experience to marketing helps users to understand your value proposition, and entices them to use your solutions.
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When people walk inside a physical store, they immediately associate everything they find there with a certain brand. But if you market and sell your products or services exclusively online, the need for consistent branding is even bigger.
People need to be able to take one glance at your social media, website or display ads and know what brand is behind them. Of course, in a young, fast-paced industry, you must ensure your branding is relevant and agile.
For example, ManyPixels had a rebranding at the beginning of the year, as we wanted our new identity to be more modern and better suited to the new direction the company was taking, and to reflect all the improvements we made over the course of the past year.
The design process was long and sometimes arduous, as everything from the simplest illustrations on our website, to social media ads needed to fit the new look. In the end though, we’re proud of our youthful new look that stands out in the world of unlimited graphic design.
It enforces professionalism
By definition, a startup is a young company that works to build a client base and earn their trust. Usually, startups are considered innovative and creative, but this doesn’t cancel out the need to present a professional image.
Where is design used
Design has very wide use, but for startups, some areas of design are critical for the overall success of the company. Here are a few key areas in which design plays an important role.
Custom logo and branding
People often buy physical products because of good branding. Think of clothing labels, Apple computers, or even Starbucks. Although people might purchase these products because they like using them, it’s also true that people are willing to pay more for a recognizable brand, which is represented by a memorable logo.
But what about online services? Would it really matter that Slack has a different icon, or have you ever considered leaving Gmail after the logo has had a slight modification?
Well, although we don’t wear t-shirts with startup logos on them (unless they work in said startup or got it for free), it doesn’t mean that logo and branding don’t matter in this field.
A logo is the foundation of a strong brand identity. If custom made, your logo perfectly relays what you do, why and for whom to potential clients. In turn, this helps build a brand image, or the way people perceive and recognize your brand.
Startups and SaaS companies often market something that can be difficult to explain, let alone represent in a visual way. So the task of a logo designer in this case is even more challenging than usual. Instead of representing physical aspects of a product or service (e.g. a pizza slice as a pizza logo, or a faucet for a plumbing company logo), they must relay what the company does in a more abstract and creative way.
Good branding is all about telling stories, and connecting with customers. Eye-catching colors and a snazzy logo can only take you so far. Just like any other business, startups first need a skilled brand designer, to help them develop a visual language that communicates the brand story. And more often than not with startups the story is your customers’ story. What problems are you trying to solve? Why? A simple visual element like a logo should be able to answer those questions.
An example we often use is Airbnb. The company started way back in 2008 when the idea behind it was unthinkable for some people. And their great success is at least in part a result of impeccable branding.
The first logo looked casual and conveyed a sense of approachability and affordability (both of which are important pull factors of the Airbnb model). But as the company grew and expanded its offer (you can find some pretty exclusive places to stay there now), they switched to a different logo. The new logo (called Belo), perfectly encompasses Aribnb’s key values: people, belonging and youthfulness.
Product development and design are a complex field, also known under many different names such as experience design, UI/UX design and others.
In essence, a product designer is a problem solver, in charge of creating a (digital) solution to a certain problem.
Although functionality and user-friendliness are the most important considerations in this field, poorly designed products aren’t just those that look bad, they also fail to fulfil their purpose. For example, a UX designer might identify all the key steps in the onboarding process perfectly, but if the UI designer (or in some cases the same person) picks the wrong color or size for a button, users won’t be able to use the product as intended.
Yet again, Slack is a terrific example to learn from. The founder of Slack simply wanted to provide teams with an easy-to-use communication platform. It’s not the first, nor the last “chat system” to hit the market. And yet, one of the reasons for Slack’s indisputable success is precisely its great design.
Aside from the many functionalities that came later (e.g. integration with different platforms), from the getgo Slack was something quite different than old emails, or outdated chat systems. It was cool, dynamic and colorful, and all of that helped position it as a unique product.
Small businesses have physical stores, startups have websites. And just as you wouldn’t want your store to have bad interior design, or to be messy and difficult to browse in, your website needs to provide customers with a positive experience and all the information about your business. The majority of people will judge the credibility of a company based on its website, and as a startup you’re hardly likely to get a second chance at a first impression.
A key aspect of website design is your landing page. A landing page should cover all the key points of the entire website, and most importantly, include a call to action that prompts visitors to engage further with your company (whether it’s to leave their contact and become sales leads, or purchase what you’re selling right away). A great landing page should include some key elements such as:
- A value proposition
- Features section
- Social proof
- Call to action
We have a full guide on landing page design, which includes plenty of landing pages templates you can grab online and use for your business.
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Marketing design is an umbrella term for a number of different types of design projects. While startups may not really require tons of different brochures or flyers (although these are also needed for things like events and conventions), good digital marketing is a must.
Here are some types of marketing designs you might need, and why they are important.
Social media ads
When we think of digital marketing, the first thing that usually comes to mind are ads we see on our social media. There’s a good reason for it too: half of the world’s population is on one form of social media, and over half of social browsers use these platforms to research products.
Naturally, this field is rather vast, so it’s critical for a startup to choose the most relevant platforms and focus on creating high-quality ads for these ones. For example, while Facebook is still the number one platform for social media advertising, the numbers may change in the coming years, since its number of teen users is declining.
It goes without saying that each platform and type of ad (feed, story, cover, thumbnail, etc.) will require different sizes and styles, which a professional designer will take into account. Another form of advertising that you should definitely consider employing are video ads. Hubspotpt found that the majority of people want to see more video content from brands and businesses, while 87% of marketers are already using video ads in their marketing efforts.
Display ads are a great way to acquire new leads and raise awareness of your brand. It has been proven that display ads work best in a native environment: on websites with similar content or style.
Reach out to potential partners or affiliates, and see if they would be interested in placing an add on their website. The startup community is big and vibrant, so it really makes sense to put those LinkedIn connections to good use. Also, don’t waste money on trying to reach users that have no interest in what you’re selling. Use retargeting and try to reach people similar to your users.
Despite many predictions that email marketing will slowly die out with the improvement of segmentation and targeting on social media and the obligatory GDPR rules, it is here to stay.
For startups, the benefits of good email marketing are even more evident, as it’s proven to have the biggest ROI compared to other forms of marketing, including Facebook. Email is also the number one channel through which startups communicate with their customers. So, the takeaway here is that when it comes to email marketing design, it’s really worth putting extra care and effort into.
Consider email segmentation, dynamic emails and seasonal promotions to really harness the power of this great marketing tool.
We’ve mentioned already that print ads are definitely not the most important form of advertising for a startup. That said, it doesn’t mean you can rule out print ads completely. Having a well-designed business card to give out on a startup convention, or impressing potential investors with a high-quality brochure can make all the difference.
It shows people that you’re not just a tech enthusiast with some time on their hands, but rather that you take your startup seriously.
We hope this helps you realize just how important design is for your startup, inside and out. Without a design-driven approach, you’re more likely to miss the mark when it comes to addressing your client’s real problems, which in turn might lead to poor user experience.
Beyond that, design is also your everyday tool to attract new clients, retain them with a positive experience, as well as communicate with and nurture leads into sales. Don’t forget that when it comes to design, ManyPixels has you covered with dozens of high-quality professionals, for all your design needs.