In today’s startup, design is what matters

March 25, 2020
Daria Gonzalez
CEO

Whether B2C or B2B all successful innovation-led companies are design driven. Apple, AirBNB, Dropbox, Slack and GitHub are changing the world of today. Not only due to technological superiority but thanks to beautiful aesthetics, considered user experience and a human-first approach to development. They’ve championed design within their business and in doing so have demonstrated its importance to the next generation of start ups. So how (and why) can you apply their design discoveries to your own startup strategy?

As our agency focuses on startup branding this post will view design through the lens of visual language: logo, typography, colors, website, UX, marketing collateral and so on. 

Why is startup design so important?

A well designed visual language helps you immediately convey your history and values to the world – oftentimes without the need for words. 

In established businesses design is the foundation of all consumer touch points: marketing, advertising, packaging, website and app, retail and office space. It is a key voice in every organization’s decision making. 

In startups design is just as (if not more) important. Why? Because young companies need a bold and memorable visual language to make up for a lack of history and reputation. It goes without saying in most startups good design is often not the primary focus of founders, especially given the shoestring budget available after building and testing the MVP. However, startup brands can still rise to the top, outshining established companies and earning recognition and mindshare.

Investing in design early on

In young technology companies it is often down to product to do the heavy lifting, using features and innovation to attract attention rather than being forced on uninterested consumers. Yet shareable, design-led content is equally important when it comes to promoting a young business. 

Pull in, not push: if you can’t afford to spend money on TV commercials to promote your product, your product and content must be memorable and appealing enough for people to spot your brand between the mass of ads and familiar names. For newcomers it’s all about using a striking and memorable visual language to gain and retain consumer attention when they weren’t even looking for you in the first place. Your brand must be instantly recognisable whether on a supermarket shelf or in a social feed. You have a blink of an eye to stand out and demonstrate to consumers how you are different and why you’re what they need.

On top of being memorable, your visual language should be polished to convey great quality — it’s a proof of reliability, especially in times when you have not got the track record to prove otherwise. 

Differentiating independently of sector

A dedication to design will help you stand out, especially in industries where it is still a rarity. For years B2B companies relied on sales teams to do the heavy lifting, but we now live in an age where consumers receive over 4,000 brand messages a day. A massive competition for mindshare has forced B2Bs to acknowledge their audience are human and standout B2B design is now a contributing factor in achieving corporate goals. Take our recent clients for example: Nairobi-based B2B fin tech startup Aza. Their rebranding helped them close their $15M round. Bookkeeping system for SMB’s Zeitgold. Their refresh played a major role in helping secure their Series B. 

Getting noticed is not about being over the top – often it’s about being different enough to stand out, especially when operating in traditional sectors. Even the smallest of changes to your visual language – fonts, colors, or photography – can make significant and long lasting differences. We often advise our clients to strive for an image that will stand out in the room, but is in keeping with industry expectations. 

Leveraging your authenticity

As a startup and authenticity is your USP — in the way you tackle a problem differently from others; in the way you speak free of prejudices; in the way you look fresh and authentic. The goal of great startup design is to bring your vision and authenticity to life, not to come up with a completely new version of you.

Your visual language has to be influenced by the brands you aspire to become, by your audience’s passions and by your founding team’s principles. Your design should create an emotional connection between your brand and it’s partners and clients. Why? Because the goal of design is to convey your values, your identity and your spirit. Don’t forget: your brand is a combination of experiences and touch points. Whether online or IRL the experience you offer consumers must reflect the values upon which your design is based. 

Break your category, not your company

As creatives love to say, “design can make or break your business”. A poorly thought out visual language has the potential to seriously damage your startup. For that reason it is vital you present consumers with the best version of yourself – as soon as you are able to do so. Delaying your design investment for “when you have customers at scale” is unwise. By then customers and partners will expect a complete and relatable identity. Well designed, beautiful and easy to use.

As you scale it will be impossible to put other activities on hold to define your brand and visual language. Prioritizing it early reduces disruption in the long term and demonstrates a commitment to all stakeholders within the business. 

Design is about evolution – not revolution 

There are many different ways to define startup design efforts. Some prefer to hire an agency taking the task out-of-house; some onboard consultants and work together to define their brand; others have the capacity and desire to develop designs in-house. It doesn’t matter how you start your design efforts, all that matters is you start and they pivot and that your visual language pivots when your business does. 

Many businesses only truly appreciate the value of design when it is too late to make the change, and often these businesses fail to reach the heights they were once destined for. Design is now one of the foundations on which successful businesses are built. Why? Because it is present in every single customer interaction – whether you realize it or not. Look at almost all successful start ups and you will see the three pillars of business, technology and design converging to create something unforgettable. If you are just starting on your journey and considering whether or not to invest in your brand, pause to think of a modern business you admire. Chances are their visual language will be one of the first things that come to mind. This should tell you all you need to know about the real value of design.

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