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This is why your company needs to think about design

Design is a field that has gained a lot of interest in the recent years. Not only are startups more and more founded by designer founders like the founders of Pinterest, Slideshare and Behance. Also, IDEO and Stanford’s d.school have spread the concept of design thinking throughout the world.

Still, design has not been largely adopted by all functions of a company beyond product design, or design teams. Applying design to whatever you do in a startup will improve the chance of success.

Thinking Design

The world has begun to understand that design is not only making things pretty. By its core, design is a structured process of problem solving. It approaches experience innovation from a human centric perspective. This goes well beyond innovation in terms of creating a new product.

The user experience when interacting with your startup starts way before looking at your company logo or swiping through your app screens. It starts with the user having a conscious or subconscious need and spans until this need is fulfilled. This involves all of the individual micro-moments where users interact with your company from seeing your offer the first time to trying out your product or service until even the moment when users stop using it.  

What this means is that in fact, every single function in a company including marketing, sales, customer success, operations, and engineering should apply design.

The design thinking process is a structured approach that starts by building up empathy with the user. Understanding why users behave in certain ways or seek for certain solutions to their problems is essential for everything else that follows. Then, the underlying problem needs to be precisely defined. This is probably one of the most difficult parts since the problem statement is built upon assumptions that need to be further validated later on.

Prototyping

After defining the core problem, the ideation process generates a set of possible solutions for the problem. Here is where the value proposition is crafted. These ideas are then prototyped to mock up real experiences that users can face.

Prototyping is important because it ensures that you do not invest heavily into a certain offer before knowing that it is exactly what users need.

In order to find out exactly what the user needs, these prototypes are than put in front of the target user to be tested against certain goals. User testing will give further insights that are necessary to shape the product.

Finally, the results of the testing are compared with initial hypotheses and then the process is iterated again and again until a satisfying solution is found.

What Steps Do Your Teams Use For Testing Design?

How many teams in your startup do you think go through all of these steps when deciding what to do for the customer? If the answer is not all of them, there is room for improvement. The design thinking approach is a highly data-driven process that gathers information internally within the company and externally from your target users throughout all individual steps.

Decisions are ignited by creative intuition and fueled by data. This mindset needs to be adopted by all functions in your startup in order to work not only efficiently but effectively.

Too often, decisions are made based on wrong assumptions and then teams will go on and on over how to best execute.

Marketing departments talking more about how to distribute a message instead of what message to tell.

Engineering departments talking about how to use a new technology instead of what problem that new technology can solve for the customer. 

Founders talking about how to fundraise before even knowing what the capital will be used for.

Answering who, why and what questions must always come before answering the how question.

A requirement for making the right decisions is the structured process of data gathering, hypothesis testing and iterating. Great sales people base their pitches on certain assumptions and iteratively tweak them in order to achieve higher deal close rates. Still, many of those do not approach it in a structured way but rather rely on intuition only.

In marketing, A/B testing or multivariate testing is used to continuously improve campaigns and activities. But why is testing not applied to the planning stage of those campaigns? Many marketing campaigns end up disastrous because initial hypothesis were never tried against goals in order to be validated. The concept of putting a MVP in front of users to see their reactions should definitely be used not only in product teams but throughout the company.

Thinking like designers also includes the constant pursuit of perfection. In startups, done is often better than perfect and that is good. Nevertheless, there must always be a good balance between quality and efficiency.

Founders sometimes push for an action before the company is fully ready for it. On the one hand, startups will never be ready and the stars will never be perfectly aligned. On the other hand, delivering a bad user experience can cause disappointment and make customers lose trust forever.

When launching a product or communicating a message or setting up a new process, always empathize with the customer and do not lose sight of potential consequences of your actions. In fact, if you want to take it a step further not only think of your customers but all stakeholders involved.

What Will The Stakeholders Think?

It is difficult to always satisfy all stakeholders. And startup teams must prioritize quick decisions in order to move forward. The key takeaway here is that you should sometimes stop and critically evaluate whether you ask the right questions.

Applying design principles will help you determine these questions and find a structured approach to iteratively answer them with real data.

Design can be highly valuable if applied correctly and it should definitely have a greater role in all companies out there. Hopefully, you can avoid critical mistakes in the future by thinking like a designer with the customer always on your mind.