Article by Heidi Pun
What do Slideshare, Pinterest, Airbnb, Behance, Posterous, Flickr, Etsy, Instagram, and Tumblr have in common? Well, they are all successful design-(co)-founded businesses. Their ‘design’ way of thinking transformed their startups into top companies with millions in revenue.
But wait a minute, can their tremendous successes really be attributed to design? Isn’t functionality really what brings customers in and solves their problems?
What is good design, really?
To answer these questions, we must first find out what design really is. Most people – even some designers – perceive design as visual accessories that are added to the business or a product after it’s done. The sad reality is that many of my past freelance design gigs only requested my services at the end of the product development process. It was like putting decorations up on a Christmas tree, but that tree might as well be a birch.
Let me tell you why that’s bad. According to Brandon Hill, design as far as startups are concerned can be split into three categories, the first being user experience, the second marketing, and lastly, branding. For the purpose of this particular discourse, I’d like to propose an even simpler categorization, and that is:
> How it looks
> How it works
‘It’ refers to the startup or product in the discussion.
So we’ve established that design is much more than just visual aesthetics, even though it is also a part of the definition. Or, as Steve Jobs once put it:
"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."
Let’s take an example of Airbnb and their recent redesign. After the release, many people started complaining about how unoriginal the new logo is – but similarities between logos happen all the time. There is a limited number of options, anyway.
What makes the redesign good is not the somewhat generic-looking BÉLO, but the consistency that they’ve implemented into their branding. Their social profiles, website, apps, and ads all feature the same squiggly line, the same colours, and even the same custom font called ‘Air’. This helps customers recognize the extensiveness of this brand and makes them trust it more (Hey, if they’re everywhere, they must be pretty competent, right?).
Of course, product design is another very important aspect – their website’s and apps’ design are always tailored to offer the best user experience possible for users looking for and renting out real estate.
It’s the same thing with Apple – their products are extremely well designed, but if they were launched outside their big Apple brand, wouldn’t be nearly as successful.
So there it is. Good design is building a product around users and keeping its branding consistent.
So Aesthetics Don’t Really Matter?
After reading the last couple of paragraphs you might think “Ok, but then I needn’t hire a celebrity designer. I’ll just get someone to create something consistently ugly and we’re set”.
And you wouldn’t be so wrong.
Let’s take a look at an example. There is this company called Ling’s Cars. Their website is horrendous, but it’s definitely consistent with the rest of their straight-up crazy marketing efforts. And judging by the numbers in the following video of Dragons’ Den, this ‘ugly branding’ is doing them just fine.
But of course, you’re probably not a startup that advertises with tanks and missiles, so a nice-looking website will definitely make you more money. And that’s why you need to hire design talent. People don’t know exactly what makes one site better-designed than another, but they still trust attractive websites more.
You need the whole package. Polished landing pages, an intuitive product, and consistent branding, and that’s why good designers are expensive.
How to Find the Right Designer
Now that you’re equipped with the right knowledge that will help you distinguish between a fantastic designer and a ‘decorator’, you can make your own decision on which kind you need.
Here are a few pointers for finding the one:
Pick, Combine, and Supplement
It’s more than likely that you need more than a single type of designer. These can be a web designer, graphic designer, industrial designer, interface designer, UX designer, etc.
If your startup is an online business, start by hiring a skilled web designer with an interest in UX. If you need a physical product designed, you will not be able to avoid hiring an industrial designer. But you’ll also need a graphic designer to create your visuals – so get a freelancer if you’re on a shoelace budget. In any case, don’t look for a unicorn designer.
Don’t Hire Off of Dribbble…
I’m not a big fan of Dribble. Maybe that’s because I never got that special invitation, but I simply don’t think that a designer can present the concept in just 400×300 pixels. I certainly wouldn’t want to base my decision to hire someone on a portfolio composed of small rectangle shots with descriptions along the lines of ‘I was bored lol’.
…or Contest Sites.
Anything that doesn’t involve your designer working along with your company’s vision and values is bad for business. Contest sites like 99designs are actually an inexpensive way of getting tons of possibly nice-looking visuals, but unfortunately, that only covers a part of our requirements.
The best way is still to simply ask friends, partners, and colleagues for a recommendation. Many awesome designers don’t do such good work promoting themselves, so you’ll need to dig deeper to find them. When evaluating their future value for your company, refer to what has been written in this article.
So there you have it! Go on now and find the right designer for your business. Need some design help? Feel free to reach out and one of our designers would be pleased to assist!