Think about the last time you visited a website where you had to wait almost an entire minute before a multimedia article loaded. Or the time you filled in your personal details to make a purchase only to be forced to complete the whole form again because you entered a phone number in an incorrect format. These tiny experiences may seem insignificant, but they have the power to subconsciously influence the way we perceive a product’s value and our likelihood of visiting a website again.
Your startup might have a striking visual identity, but if a person doesn’t intuitively understand how to navigate your website from the get-go or find interacting with your app useful, it doesn’t really mean anything to your business. Budding entrepreneurs are often strapped for cash and caught in a juggling act of tasks which can sometimes lead to overlooking certain areas, such as user experience (UX) design. However, UX is probably the last area a fledgling startup should skimp on, because of its crucial role in a user’s first impression of the product/service as well as reeling a customer back in. Not only that, 500 Startups founding partner Dave McClure once boldly argued that addictive user experience and marketing were more important to the success of consumer Internet startups, than engineering talent alone.
1 – Thoroughly understand the nature of UX Design
For startups to tap into the potential of UX design is to – first and foremost – understand what it is and what it’s not. “UX is not only the design, it’s more of a perspective – it’s a user approaching the company through a variety of touch points” explained designer Johannes Holl, co-founder of the design studio Boana. Depending on the product or service, touch points can include everything from the packaging and delivery system to customer support and waiting times. Holl says that crafting a ‘wow’ user experience is more than just having a nice product or website design, it’s about creating a consistent brand experience, interaction patterns and tonality across all touch points, whether digital or in-person.
“UX is not only the design, it's more of a perspective – it's a user approaching the company through a variety of touch points.”
Because the lines drawn between various design realms are becoming increasingly blurred, UX design is often confused with user interface (UI) design – and it’s important to distinguish the two when crafting a strategy for your startup.
While UX design refers to a broader view of a product’s behaviour with the consumer and encompasses a number of factors (such as aesthetics, marketing, usability and performance), UI design is concerned with the narrower scope of communication between a human and the machine, says Stefanie Kegel, co-founder of boutique design studio The Geekettez. Essentially, UI design is an element of UX design and deals more with how a user interacts with devices, screens and buttons.
“For me, UX design is more of a philosophy that the whole team has to have as a shared value. A bad user experience can come from things like a slow website and that’s something we have no influence over, which is why I prefer to say I’m a user experience consultant,” says Kegel, who has worked with startups like HelloFresh on their UX strategy. “It’s a trans-disciplinary approach that involves branding, UI design, product management, sales, marketing and development. All of these people have to have a shared understanding of what the user experience will be.”
“UX design is more of a philosophy that the whole team has to have as a shared value.”
2 – Stay informed of emerging technologies, but think about the bigger picture
Technology is evolving at an incredibly quick pace – and so are the UX design practices that go along with them. While it’s undoubtedly important to keep up-to-date with what’s happening in the industry (wearables! AI! personalization!) and think ahead, don’t incorporate a trend into your startup’s design strategy just because it’s new and hyped.
“With the rise of mobile, everybody now wants to have a responsive website without actually considering and taking advantage of the mobile context. I think it’s just short-term thinking,” says Kegel. So yes, entrepreneurs should stay current with new technologies, but focus only on ones that make sense for the startup’s broader strategy and goals.
In a similar vein, Holl believes that following the Next Big Thing is simply unsustainable. “We need to bring the ideas of sustainability to the web because we spend so much effort building software – and it should last a bit,” he explains. In our ever-evolving technological landscape, Holl thinks it’s important for startups to think about building a strong brand and designing a product that can last in a fast-changing environment.
3 – Consider the material you’re designing for
As an industrial designer turned UX designer who’s been coding since his teenage years, Holl thinks that startups should become more aware of the notion of ‘material honesty’ – the idea that the properties of a material should influence the design – when designing for web materials in their UX strategy.
“There are many elements that influence why something should be in a particular form – and one of those is the material. I would craft something completely different for native iOS apps than for the web because it’s a different material, and the code is written differently. I think the spirit of making something appropriate for a material, or digital code, is still very new to this particular area,” he elaborates.
For this reason, Holl is a proponent of the idea that UX designers should have some knowledge of coding when working with Internet startups and that coders should also know a bit about design. After all, prototyping even small elements should be able to happen with that intended material, whether that be HTML or CSS, and not just through a Photoshop document.
4 – Be agile, AKA design in sprints
When it comes to process, startup founders are probably quite familiar with the lean methodology… But how about ‘Lean UX’?
According to Kegel, Lean UX is an important part of UX design for startups. At its core, Lean UX is about designing closely with the development team and in small sprints. “For example, you might have an existing website and the website has some weak points. You don’t have to trash the whole thing, you can take small parts out of it and work on some solutions in a lean way,” she expands, “The idea is to get as many solutions as possible and work the best ones out.” Instead of having huge deliverables such as wireframes and mockups at the end – which don’t necessarily result in quality experiences for the user – designers work quicker and more collaboratively with other business functions.