“I love design and startup and I firmly believe magical companies emerge when these two meet – Braun, Apple, Airbnb, Medium, Youtube, Square, Nest. The critical mass of combined business, design and technical minds skills have made these companies incredibly successful.
But, I always feel people overcomplicate design with their multiple principles and frameworks. Design should be simple, replicable and top of mind in a startup. At Mammoth we think of design as a state of mind, a simple yet creative approach to a problem. It’s how we think we will empathize with our users and unearth unarticulated opportunities. Let me tell you how we approach it at Mammoth.”
Don’t be dogmatic about process, specs and beautiful renders- Speed to market, learning and building is what matters; not your pixel perfect photoshop mocks & documentation. The thing you should strive for perfection with should be your shipped product, not your mockup. Ultimately, users see your product not photoshop files. Put a greater focus on designing experiences rather than on spec and deliverables.
Design narratives, not screens – While people around you will always ask to design few screens, i.e. onboarding, signup flows, referrals etc; as a designer you should always think about them in narratives, not individual screens. Because stories have characters, context and emotions. Think about user’s whole journey how she achieves the goal (from being a visitor to a repeat user), and not only the outcome (make her signup).
Design with a PoV, learn & then design with numbers – I am sure when you are doing a startup, you must have started with a critical hypothesis based on some user pain you empathized with. Unlike many big companies where designers and product teams are supposed to ‘SHIP’ and check a milestone; you the startup designer need to realize that shipping is just another daily chore for you. Think about what exactly you are measuring to test your PoV. Start playing with analytics tool i.e. Mix panel, Heap, Google Analytics to see how your design is performing with users. Analyse that perfromace, compare it it your initial hypothesis and derive insights. Find out what really happened, learn from and get back to shipping again and again again.
In one of her seminalt posts, Julie Zhuo, Product design director of Facebook posted this graphic about the design process good/ experienced designers follow. It does a great job of illustrating the difficulty of the design work that happens after you ship a product at a startup – Its all about iterations!
Design with committee and not design-by-commmitee- You should also involve your product/feature team t/hrough out the UX cycle, but keep the reins with you- cos there’s nothing worse than a product which is designed by committee. Listen to everyone, respect everyone’s PoV and design with all the insights combined together.
Developers are your best friend- A designer is only as good as a developer and vice versa. She’s the one who can bring life to your mocks and all the interactions that you’d thought of/ prototyped. So bring her a box of donuts, her favourite drink and create the magic together.
Be a part of customer support- Even better head the customer support, that means talking to your users everyday on social media, support forums. It will definitely give you a better perspective about what to do and what to not do. It might not be as helpful as contextual research or a lab study but it’ll all keep you abreast with what’s working, what’s not and what more people are looking to get from your product.
Use pen(cil) more- Don’t jump to Sketch, Photoshop or HTML/CSS. No matter how fast you are with your digital tools, you can be at least 5X faster with a pencil. Pencil sketches are cheaper, get you better feedback and let you iterate much much faster.
Learn (always, always, always…)- Analytics, Git, HTML, CSS and all those left-brained stuff that we don’t really care about, matter and matter a lot for your startup. Try to get involved with your dev/ test/ product science team (if you have one), or step up and learn. Being a one-trick pony is ok and appreciated if you are working for a big organization, but a designer for startup is so much more than a designer; be a Product manager, a front-end guy, a customer support hero and you will add tons of value to your company and yourself.
Last but most important one- Take care of yourself and people around you, startup life can be really difficult. Share an occasional laugh with your kid (I do it every 24 minutes), go for a dinner with your beautiful spouse, play a quick game of tennis, drink a glass of wine. Enjoy, Design!