Why Design is Essential for Startup Success

By Lisa Helminiak

May 15, 2016

Design is a Process

In our experience, products work better and business grows faster when designers are involved early as part of the strategy team. Design, in this context, doesn’t mean making things pretty, though that’s one outcome designers hope to achieve. Rather, design is the plan and process to get to a desired outcome. Human-centered design, specifically, puts end users or customers at the center of the design process. A designer’s goal is to thoroughly understand customer goals, needs and contexts so product and services are designed to create the greatest value for users and for those hoping to build a business around an idea. The process includes the following steps:

1) Explore
  • Identify or delve deeper into the need a product or service is addressing so we know that we are solving the right problem.
  • Gain empathy for our customers/users so we understand how our product or service can better meet their needs.
  • Understand who else is trying to solve the problem so we can do it better and more efficiently.
2) Envision
  • Identify the users we are going to design for and continue to gain empathy as we watch them use prototypes and early versions of our products or services.
  • Vet the business model, onboarding process and customer retention goals.
  • Design and iteratively test product and service designs.
  • Repeat this process until we have something users find both functional and delightful.
3) Enable
  • Make the product or service, launch it and continue gaining empathy with users to improve on v.1.
  • Bake customer input and insight into the future product releases or service improvements.

The greatest value of the human-centered design process is that, by getting the whole team focused from the start on customers, it ensures that the product or code base being developed meets a real need. Depending on whose statistics you read, startups fail 60-80% of the time. No matter what stats you use, the numbers tell us most entrepreneurs are not getting something right. When done right, human-centered design can help—it lowers risk by better defining the product, the market and the business model.

Working with designers requires a shift in thinking that is not always easy for an entrepreneur with lots of ideas. It takes patience to listen to potential users or customers and it means letting go of the idea that the startup team has all the answers. It may even take letting go of the original idea to pursue a better one. It takes a willingness to listen and to observe where the real opportunities are, and it takes discipline to stick with the process. But the startups that do incorporate human-centered design into their process, get to market faster with a better product and better results.

Read how Azul Seven helped MyMeds, a medication adherence startup, take their product to the next level.

Want to learn more about design for innovation or biomimicry?

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