Designing for startup

Ive come to realize one of the beautiful aspects of designing for startups. Whether it’s the small teams, laser focused goals, or tight budgets, you end up expanding your notion of design greatly. You get to follow the food from farm to table and get a real sense of ownership on the product and process that happens. At my tenure at Foodee, I learned Javacsript frameworks, hand lettered chalk signs, hand scored event programs, completed food photo shoots, undertook user testing, and directed videos. It’s this diversity that reminds you of the core of what design is and its critical role in a startup.

In short order here’s a breakdown of what I’ve learned so far. I’ll break down each section in future posts.

Own the product.

Know the business challenges as well as the development and design aspects of your product. Be intimate with why you are doing what you’re doing.

Let your customers steer (once you’ve taken off)

People will always want a faster horse if you ask too ineffectually. Instead, you need to ask the right people the right question. Develop a product to some form, get some traction, & establish a small core set of the right users who truly evangelize your product. The customer input you get after you’re partially formed a product will be the single most influential force in success. But only if you act on it.

Brand lean.

Keep brands easy to represent, reproduce, & recognize. System details trump visual detail every time. Choose easy to reproduce colour, but be consistent. Fight for that webfont – sometimes (especially in mobile) – it’s the only thing that’s unique thing talking about your brand. Simplify everything and repeat it until you are sick of it – that is when your audience will start to build respect and cognition.

Embrace craft.

Champion the production process. Know code. Learn from your developer. Use low-tech hacks – there’s no shame in iframes.

Simplify the equation.

You’re responsible for reducing and simplifying the customer-product relationship, taking input from both ends. Embrace your innate ability as a simplifier – that is one of the most valuable things a designer can bring to any organization. The more brutal the simplification, the better you can focus on communicating a core message.

Collaborate with ‘non’-designers.

To a degree, everyone at a startup is responsible for contributing or upholding design. Allow them to do so. Likely you are one of the only pure designers on the team – it’s your job to lead and shape that input into something compelling.

Think three dimensionally.

Sketch. Make paper mockups. Study materials. Use real world analogies, comparisons, similes. Use power tools, chalk, tape, stickers, whatever it takes to create a real visual presence at presentations, shows, the public, etc. People respond well to real things – you can save a lot of valuable time and effort in communicating your message.