Why You Need A Design Founder

Jeff Domke
Nov 23, 2013 · 2 min read

As a designer in a tech startup, I sometimes receive urgent requests from founders searching for great design talent. Here’s one from the founder and CEO of a funded tech startup:

“My company is at the stage where we need to optimize for brand and value prop. I need some help/advice. We need to invest in some user research, flush the benefits, get those all over site, put creative in place with those benefits, and streamline funnels.”

His tone confused me. This didn’t sound like he “needed to optimize” at all.

It sounded like he was grappling with fundamental product-market-fit questions — and maybe he didn’t know how his company was relevant and different. And this CEO seemed ready to outsource it, speed it along, or just not be bothered by it.

It was weird, so I asked for clarification. This was his full response:

“I guess am looking for super-qualified resources who can design the ultimate landing pages.”

This was my takeaway: He was looking for a plug-and-play designer, who knows some shortcuts, to deliver those “ultimate landing pages” really fast.

He didn’t mean ultimate understanding of customer pain points and needs.

He meant ultimate slick graphics and sexy marketing copy, to trick people into clicking, buying, and doing something.

I didn’t help this CEO, but I’m sure he found someone. I’m also sure his company is in trouble. Startups like these — ones that fail to understand their customers’ true needs — are perfect targets for design-centric competitive plays.

When true design thinkers zero in on this type of company, they often deliver this one-two punch:

One: They leapfrog the company’s user experience, outperforming and out-delivering in every conceivable way.

Two: They rethink how the fundamentals of the industry line up, usually cutting out middlemen and inventing a new way of transacting or communicating. This type of design thinking, applied to business problems, often leads to wildly successful companies.

In the end, all parties involved are richer and happier.

If you’re an entrepreneur:

Include a designer on your founding team. When you have a design founder, you won’t find yourself needing to “optimize for brand” or “flush the benefits.” A deep understanding of your customers will be infused into every decision you make.

If you’re a designer:

you know most of this already. Go work for a startup, or start your own company. Go make the world richer and happier.

Illustration above the amazing: Pierre Voisin

Jeff Domke

Written by

Product @ Blockstack. Product leader. UX/UI designer. Built several startups from ground-up as founder, first hire, or first product designer.

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