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In the last decade, plenty of companies have embraced the Design religion. And the nature of Design practice itself has evolved.
Design matters more than ever before, because we as users as well have evolved. Our everyday tools have evolved. We experience so much more often through a myriad of digital platforms and devices. Often enough to become intolerant of sub-par or shoddy design. We are impatient and unimpressed by the average—and need smallest of reasons to uninstall.
The startup industry is an unforgiving universe. And disrupters are not respectful of age or scale. Working with entrepreneurs in the startup world and intrapreneurs in larger organisations, here are 4 ways I believe we can leverage on Design.
Design isn’t just problem solving
“Designers are problems solvers”—that was the definition I repeatedly encountered during my student days at the National Institute of Design. I still do hear that. But that’s a partial and poor definition. Engineers, Doctors, Architects, technicians and trouble-shooters of all assorted variety are all problem solvers.
What makes Designers unique is that they can help businesses make sense of blurry, fuzzy, unclear, ill-defined problems - or essentially mine opportunities. At the crossroads of tech, business and human behaviour—new-age practitioners like UX Designers or UX researchers bring Prototyping, Data, User Studies and Research Methodologies to make sense of a user’s unarticulated needs.
So if your venture is looking at decoding rapidly changing user needs and making products and services that fit them, engaging with Designers would be a great place to start. Engage designers in business conversations and not just about design trends and patterns. After all, Design is a great tool in understanding and envisioning product-market fit.
Design makes Tech Edible
Everyday we unlock our phones 150 times on an average—once every few minutes. Compare that to the days of dial up connection when you’d be connected few times in day. Tech has magically enabled virtually uninterrupted connectivity, access to an ever-expanding universe of sites and stores, apps and services; trillions of photos, updates and notifications.
The corollary? The problem of plenty—a 95% drop in daily active usage in first 90 days is not uncommon for a vast majority apps—it may occur sooner.
Uninstalls, copy-cats and irrelevance hounds ventures and startups. Add to it—open source, shared platforms, servers and services that have made tech accessible and easier to recreate. However sum total of a user’s experience on your app or service remains elusive and harder to replicate.
Defining unique pathways that make an experience memorable, fit the user’s mental map of today, adapt to her changing needs and uses, as well as being memorable in some small ways—that’s the real design challenge. Design can make complex tech edible, but it can also make commoditised tech so much more appetising! Bring in designers who are not just skilled, but curious and fearless in questioning.
Beauty is a by-product
Making a product or service beautiful is the ask that most designers get. And yet it is not a badly designed button that will fail a product. Or an awesome banner or a great social media campaign. I have oft repeated that famed Ogilvy quote: “good advertising makes a bad product fail faster”.
The earlier points may have made it abundantly clear—Design isn’t the top skin. Good design is about helping the user find the fastest, easiest and most delightful way of getting a task done. If that pathway is peppered with delightful visuals, then that’s a bonus. If the path is peppered with inconsistent visual style or messages, then that’s unacceptable.
Remember that consistency, clarity and simplicity is preferable to great beauty in parts. And that includes words, since we engage so much with them too. Words, imagery, icons, animation and flow—collectively create the persona of an app (or site). Define the person, not just buttons and form fields.
Start with Design
Ironic that I mention this at the end.
But that’s what happens in many organisations that I work with—Designers are brought in to beautify, to tweak, once all the key decisions have been taken. In her recent talk at DesignUp Conference in Bangalore, Adobe’s VP of Design—Jamie Myrold, exhorted businesses to let Designers lead, because Designers are often the “voice of the customers”.
At the heart of the (now) much hyped “Design Thinking’ process is empathy. The ability and willingness to suspend judgement and see things from a specific human centric perspective—step in their shoes. Design thinking is not learning, but unlearning. Unlearning years of rigorous schooling with its usual focus on one right answer.
For best results, bring in designers early and give them a voice. Get them to meet users, map user-journeys, brainstorm with product managers and engineers. Design thinkers and doers are essential, not just to solve a problem well but ensure we are finding the right problems to solve. The right opportunities to mine and then mining it well. The brilliant apps we see today were not the same when they set out.
The apps, sites and services you create will mirror the business that is maturing, learning and unlearning. It will reflect the changing needs of users and changing seasons in the tech world.
Increasingly, I see startups giving Design a seat at the table—with Product, Engineering, Growth, hiring Designers much earlier and engaging them deeper. That’s another good ingredient for growth and relevance in an overcrowded marketplace.