The road from idea to product: Design tips for startups

Published on Thursday, 18 February 2021

Navigating the waters of entrepreneurship can be as challenging as it is rewarding. The time when startups were only based in Silicon Valley has passed, they are now located all around the world and entrepreneurship is a trend. In fact, there are an estimated 582 million entrepreneurs in the world. As more startups come on the scene it becomes increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. 

The truth is, you may have come up with a good idea, surrounded yourself with the right team and have a business plan all in order, but what will your product look like? How will you let people know about it? To attract consumers: you have to shape your idea so that it becomes an attractive product or service; one that is straightforward and easy to use. Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor in Chief of Forbes Media affirms: “Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business”. Your startups brand identity is an important part of the ideation process, it’s how you will present your product and service to the world.

Startups must consider how to allocate their budget into branding, what their brand should look like, and how it should function. If you are an entrepreneur, designer or developer, here are some tips about brand identity and product design that you might consider when starting out and developing a top-of-mind product through the eyes of the customer.

Why should you invest in design?

Branding can be expensive, but it is important to see it as an investment that will evolve with your company. This doesn’t mean that a startup should spend the majority of its funding on brand identity and the perfect design in order to grow. As a startup begins to expand, the team may realize that its customer is not who it thought it was or that the business is pivoting into another direction, and that’s ok. Even Uber, Dropbox and Airbnb, some of the most revered startups of the last few years have changed their branding.

Investing in brand design is a must, but how much is enough? Similar to buying your first car or first home, you shouldn’t go for the most expensive product in the market. The recommended amount to spend on branding at a seed stage is around 5–10% of your total budget. When you develop your initial brand assets, don’t worry about making it perfect or you may never feel ready to launch your product. The look and feel of your brand and product will change as you learn to adapt to your market. The important thing is to get something out there that is coherent and appealing.

Now, where to begin?

With the idea of “perfection” out of the way and the understanding that it's important to invest in design, where should startups begin? Founder and investor of global venture capital firm 500 Startups, Dave McClure insists that “design and marketing aren’t just as important as engineering: they are way more important”. In order to achieve an effective and emotion-provoking product design, the first step startups must take is to get all the information from their target audience. Who is your ideal customer and what does he or she look for in your solution? Startups need to understand their customer inside and out and spend some time building a typical user profile. When creating a product that is both visually appealing and user-centric always remember that you are designing for your customer, not yourself.

two people in front of the pc | Enel Startup

Aside from co-creating with experts on the basics of design such as choosing your colors, fonts incorporating contrast and hierarchy, it is important to always remember the user end-goal. People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Having a product that simplifies a customer’s life in a user-friendly and visually appealing manner will drive value to your product.

And what about UI/UX?

An individual’s cognitive response to the user interface of a product can make or break the relationship between a startup and its consumer. A 2012 study showed that people form aesthetic reactions to a web page in the first 17 to 50 milliseconds after exposure. Today’s digital ecosystem requires technology to be reliable, simple, clear, easily and multi-platform friendly.

Keep the brand, product and services front and center. The startup Make My Day, for example, makes use of an optimized mobile and vehicle user interface to deliver a driving assistant application that simplifies driving routes for electric vehicle users. Users know right away what they are signing up for thanks to an easily recognizable, design that clearly communicates the app’s objective.

As a startup, you should spend a significant amount of time empathizing and understanding what experience is right for your customers Don’t be afraid to step out of the boundaries of what is the norm. During the pandemic, Zoom became the new go-to remote conferencing platform even though Skype has been available for decades. Why has this happened? Zoom’s interface placed its ideal customer at the center of their experience, allowing users to easily make video calls with multiple teams in an easy-to-use way. When thinking of how to make your product or service more usable, consider how many steps your customer needs to take to solve their problem. If you can simplify these steps in a unique way, don’t be afraid to explore it and give it a chance.

Finally, what else?

Brand identity and product design can be complex, but it is important to keep your eye on the prize. Remember that your product needs to be achievable, profitable, well planned, and appealing to customers. Make your product stand out, have a clear value proposition in mind and, overall, do not forget who your customer is and why they should choose you. This way, they won't forget you either.

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