Design’s Value Across Startup Teams

Nov 16, 2016

Nov 16, 2016

This article first appeared in

While the number of people who recognize the need for design has increased in recent years, a lot of my conversations with founders today still revolve around the understanding of what is design and how it can add value to a company. Design’s direct contributions — user experience, interaction, interface, and visual design — are already understood. But there is more.

A small understanding of design will produce an aesthetically pleasing and easy to use product. But with a deep understanding, design can move the needle across your entire organization.

Here are some of the ways your startup teams will excel with design:

Leadership + Design

  • Leading with empathy: Designers can empathize with the stakeholders your business serves and push founders to understand if they are creating with the right set of beliefs and principles.
  • Understanding why: Design thinking helps founders to address “Why” they make things, not just what and how.

Engineering + Design

  • Reduce wasted cycles: User research and prototyping validates user needs, reducing engineering cycles on unwanted features.
  • Designer’s eye to development: Code savvy designers can pay attention to the important details that engineers overlook, allowing engineers to focus on other engineering tasks.
  • Integrated solutions: Cross-team collaboration results in innovative engineering and design solutions.

Product + Design

  • Increase speed to learn: Designers can make new ideas tangible, allowing teams to better analyze their ideas, quickly test, and ultimately make better, faster, more impactful product decisions.
  • What to build: An acute awareness of user needs helps product prioritization by focusing on the highest impact product features.
  • Being data-informed: Designers can inform and evaluate product, business, and growth goals through the analysis of user data.

Sales + Design

  • Maximize customer value: Holistic view of the customer lifecycle creates insights and opportunities for engagement maximizing lifetime value (LTV).
  • Make sales easier: User empathy and research leads to clarity in value props and communications.
  • Compelling sales materials: Well-designed mockups and prototypes are incredibly effective sales tools.

Marketing + Design

  • Elevates perception of company: Aesthetically pleasing marketing campaigns and assets present a professional brand, building customer trust and loyalty.
  • Provides clarity & consistency: Design presents unified communications across all deliverables through voice, tone, look & feel.
  • Positive loops: Good design results in increased retention and high word of mouth referrals.

Growth + Design

  • Design compliments growth efforts: Growth hacking uses principles of design thinking, user-centered design, and prototyping.
  • Applying design methodologies: Rapid user testing and iteration can help to maximize growth.

Recruiting + Design

  • Recruiting outreach: Design generates innovative recruitment campaigns to attract talent.
  • Improving the recruiting process: Mapping experience design to the hiring process to create a positive experience leading to a successful hire and/or additional word of mouth referral.
  • Attracting talent: Potential hires are attracted to companies with great design as it’s a reflection of their work.

Internal culture + Design

  • Cultivating culture: Designers instill a sense of culture by making the intangibles of a company (mission, vision, values, personality, etc.) tangible.
  • Fail-fast mindset: A strong design culture creates an open atmosphere with a test and iterate mentality and better communication for cross-functional teams.

I hope this is a starting point in understanding the broad applications of design and its strategic use in building a successful company.

Mohit Bhende, founder of Karat, an 8VC portfolio company focused on technical hiring, and I recently discussed this topic. He understands the importance of design:

“At Karat, we deploy Andy, our primary designer, into multiple initiatives outside of his core domain to instill design thinking, appeal for customer-focused experience and aesthetic into all facets of the company. In turn these create ROI in the form of better products and better business.”

How have you seen design create value in your organization?

Deny Khoung
Designer in Residence, 8VC

Thanks to Hana Kim, Sarah Harrison and Ugur Kaner for reading drafts of this.

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