What is the role of design in a start up?

— If the designer decides to build a company based upon a start-up, the most important thing he needs to change is his mindset. I always thought that a stable company could be built based on a great design. However, thanks to start-ups, I learned that first you have to build a stable company so you can do great design in it. This is quite contradictory to how I perceived this earlier.

The transfer from client orientation to start-ups taught me a lot. I would recommend it really to every designer, so I wrote down a couple of remarks from the position of a designer.

The designer cannot misuse his power

The designer knows how to create a beautiful User Interface from a non-functioning concept, which stuns his colleagues, gets 300 likes and will look ingenious, but in reality won’t be usable at all.

— Therefore, the task of the designer in a start-up ISN’T to make a beautiful UI at any cost, save weak concepts and count on the design to fix everything.

The wealthy bourgeois start-ups do it differently. They have a lot of time and a lot of designers so they can afford to have each concept with a beautiful UI. However, in the end it’s useless, because a good design intentionally hides usability, so the company needs more time to find out why a given concept works (or doesn’t work).

However, an extremist offshoot of designer existentialists says that it is better to have a beautiful design of a non-functioning web than an ugly design of a non-functioning web. Yes, they are right: there are a lot of unsuccessful companies that had a beautiful design.

The designer thinks about the company

— The proficiency of the designer is a quantity, which determines his endurance to fight the CSS-people and argue with his colleagues that they cannot release unfinished creations.

Actually, this is what I thought at the beginning. But after years, I learned that it works differently when you are in a start-up.

You cannot bother your colleagues with every little thing. One has to understand what is the release goal and function, and react based on that. If it is a feature that will be used by 5% of the users, I’d leave it. But if it is pricing, which will affect the business in a very real way, then one has to fight.

It is necessary to understand that if we don’t push the coders when we are in the home stretch, we are saving them valuable time. At the same time our product can grow faster, thus increasing our chance for survival. We have to think about not killing the growth with our pixel-perfect approach.

TIP: Try to listen to Weightless — the most relaxing song ever by Marconi Union before you start checking CSS from the coders.

The designer wants feedback

Gradually, your colleagues start to ignore InvisionApp, the reminders don’t work anymore, all your friends are sick and tired. What now? What’s proven to work is to ask colleagues for feedback only for the most important revisions.

On the one hand, your team is the most precious source of feedback, but on the other, the feedback gradually dries up. Therefore, think twice before seeking it. Definitely don’t ask your colleagues about every little screen you design.

  • For testing purposes — it’s ideal if you sit in some co-working space where there are a lot of people. Instant feedback guaranteed.
  • In the online environment — a Facebook group seems to work well. It’s something like a company lab, where your fans will give you advice and at the same time lets you share your know-how, which they will appreciate.

TIP: It’s fine to create one channel in Slack, where you regularly post your designs. The goal is to have them at least seen by someone so maybe he leaves you feedback. But be prepared, you may have to actively ask for feedback from several platforms — in combination with email, personally through Facebook, etc. One channel is never enough. The designer cannot get angry with his colleagues if they don’t respond. One just has to chase them and face it.

— I think the previous points nicely illustrate that a designer in a start-up has to know how to multitask. He becomes product manager, strategist and growth hacker. He does very little painting frames in Sketch. He spends more time on wireframes, task management, documentation, categorization, versions and explaining when the time is right for a good design. And I think this is the best school for a designer.

Published in #SWLH (Startups, Wanderlust, and Life Hacking)