Spring & Williams, the Switchyards corner. Photo credit: Solomon Jones

Why such a focus on brand & design?

The conversation begins.

Up until just a few years ago a better Internet user experience was a result of better technology. Computing power increased at the rate of Moore’s Law. Internet connectivity became untethered due to Wi-Fi, while mobile and fixed Internet streaming speeds increased. And in 2007, the world changed completely with the release of the iPhone, a super powerful computer in your pocket with a robust application ecosystem. Now that most of the infrastructure is in place for everyone to have powerful devices connected to very fast pipes, engaging customers on a higher psychological plane is becoming the primary way to differentiate most web-based businesses.

“The first 20 years of the web were won by those that built the best infrastructure. Now it’s won by those that build the best experiences.” — Aaron Levie, co-founder & CEO, Box

In this new design-led era of the Internet, two big things are happening…

  1. Existing everyday experiences are being virtualized. Now that technology has turned the corner from being utilitarian, products are being created for human behaviors that we’ve been doing for a very long time. Passing notes in class…Yik Yak. Taking that special photo from your unique perspective…Instagram. And filling a binder up with magazine clippings for your next home renovation…Pinterest.
  2. Customers can connect with brands much more deeply. Consumers are aligning themselves even more with niche brands. Ever since the beginning of the Mad Men era, brands have expressed who we are. What car do you drive? What shoes do you wear? Brands make a statement of who we are. Now brand-focused companies spread freely to their target audience via social channels. Want to buy shorts like you are back in college? Check out Chubbies. Want cringe-worthy media coverage? Check out Vice. Want to get daily news like a true millennial? Sign-up for theSkimm. Brands are now connecting with their customers on a deeper level and in many more ways. This is particularly true of brands that consumers can touch and feel, but is also increasingly the case for B2B businesses.
“A plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. The Beatles did.” — Kurt Vonnegut

Just since 2010, twenty-seven startups founded by designers and a dozen creative agencies have been acquired by companies like Google, Facebook, Adobe, LinkedIn, Dropbox & Yahoo (source: Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers). And just in the last year, six high-profile venture capital firms have invited designers onto their teams.

From seed funds being launched to only invest in founders who are designers to the basic philosophy behind the slew of on-demand companies, the current phase of the Internet has design at its core.

Good design doesn’t necessarily mean being pretty. Good design doesn’t necessarily mean good usability. Good design doesn’t even have to involve technology. Good design just means engaging your audience more deeply, in a way that surprises and delights them. This kind of thinking was a “nice to have” a decade ago. Now it’s the difference-maker across all industries, as optimizing customer engagement is the hallmark of the industry leaders.

So what does all of this mean for Switchyards? Every day we’ll work hard to figure out how new consumer startups in Atlanta can put design at their core. We don’t have all of the answers, but we are going to start the conversation in Atlanta.

“[Silicon Valley] didn’t think a designer could build and run a company. They were straight up about it. We weren’t MBAs, we weren’t two PhD students from Stanford. Being designers they thought we were people that worked for people that ran companies.” — Brian Chesky, Co-founder of Airbnb