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3 Things Most Startups Get Wrong About Design

Startups move notoriously fast, and that dead-sprint pace can spell trouble for the design firms that work with them.

Nicolas Susco

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Startups move notoriously fast, and that dead-sprint pace can spell trouble for the design firms that work with them.

Because they want everything done yesterday, startups may not realize good design takes time. Rushing the process only causes further problems—and sometimes those later problems are even bigger than a bad design in the first place.

At ElipseAgency, we work with many startups, and it’s not always the case that every single one is in a hurry. But after 20 years of running a design firm, with hundreds of startup clients, I can safely say there are a few things they get wrong about design.  

1. What startups get wrong about design is that quality takes time.

Right off the bat, startup clients frequently don’t understand the pace at which good design is created.

They want it to happen immediately, and, unfortunately, a rush job is a rush job no matter which way you present it. And nobody wants that—not the business and not the design firm. You want the final piece to be something you’re proud of, and you want your client to succeed.

And no one succeeds with a rushed design.

So, one of the ways designers can problem solve is learning to compromise with a startup’s pace. The designer doesn’t have to rush, but, for example, they can be accommodating about the constant changes that a startup client will inevitably need to make to the final product.

Of course, this isn’t a long-term solution. It simply isn’t sustainable. A startup needs to officially make the transition out of their initial phases, and the designer will need time to do quality work.

2. Startups want to control too many things about the design.

Some startups make the massive mistake of thinking a designer is a tool and not a person.

They may consider the designer as someone who merely produces the idea they have. This means startups won’t value the feedback, ideas, or creativity a good designer brings to the table. The startup client will want to control everything in their own way.

This makes the process considerably more painful for everyone involved.

For example, the client may say “I want our initials inside a blue circle.” But once they see it, they hate it and want changes made immediately. This goes back and forth for quite some time until the desired product is finished.

On the other hand, they could explain to the designer, “We are a high tech company, and we’d like something that represents us as serious and professional in that space.” Then they could allow the designer to present them with options. This way, I can almost guarantee they would have fewer changes, and the process would take less time.

Basically, startups have to trust their designer like a member of their own team—just as they are innovating in their industry, they have to trust the designer to innovate with their work.  

3. Startups don’t realize that bad user experience means low adoption.

Peter Drucker once said, “Strategy is a commodity, and execution is an art.”

What that means in terms of startups and design is it’s either the idea for the startup wasn’t good enough, or the execution fails. It has to be one of those.

I’ve seen poor ideas with great executions succeed. I’ve seen great ideas with great execution succeed. But I’ve never seen a great idea with poor execution succeed. And when it comes to execution, design is a key element of success. It can help startups find contracts and engage users, to start.

Look at it this way: we’ve all tried an app because our friends told us to, only to put it down again because it looked cheap or wasn’t enjoyable. This is because the design of a program or application is just as important as the idea behind it.

For example, I was involved with a startup called Crashlytics from day one. It was basically a tool that helped developers track lag and malfunctions in the apps they developed, which helped resolve issues quicker.

At the time, this was an exceptional idea. And Crashlytics wanted the design to be on par with this exception.

Essentially, our dedication and time and energy in designing a high-quality experience for Crashlytics paid off. Twitter ended up acquiring them, and then later they were acquired again by Google. That’s a pretty serious success story—and the design was crucial to that.

So while it takes a lot of working components—communication, compromises, patience—on all sides, it’s critical that designers and startups work together. They both need each other to grow, to push boundaries, and to deliver the best possible experience for their community.   

Designer and Entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in the digital and graphic design field, Nicolas Susco has led his own Design Agency (ElipseAgency) since 1999 serving companies in the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Finland among other countries. Some of the Agency's most remarkable clients include: Twitter, Coca-Cola, Greenpeace, Walmart, Danone, Sony and Virgin Mobile among others.

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