The other day I met with a startup in Santa Monica, and noticed a giant etch of the word d e s i g n on the ceo’s glass office wall. Their company isn’t about design per say, but it was refreshing to see the discipline given such prominence. The word design is being kicked around in the startup world a lot more these days, and I think this is a good thing.
Design is the exercise of creating or adding elements of appearance to something. It is defined as “The shape or appearance given to an object, especially one that is intended to make it more attractive”. In the startup world it can make the difference between success or failure if combined properly with great business strategies. There are many examples of great design alone in a failing startup, but great design plus great engineering and business strategies often win. Also, many startups with bad/weak design but great strategies and engineering have been winners. But that seems to be changing.
To say that someone is a visual person is a little silly – everyone is visual. Colors and Shapes and beautiful Movement attract any human, often on a subconscious level. A simple attractive Design for a website or product will change its fate from yet another to the best in a category.
Beautiful design exudes success and confidence, care about details. And most importantly – originality. great design comes from within a person or organization, not copied from outside and implemented. It’s more difficult, but imperative for long term success. Simple beautiful design is proliferating on the web – lots of white space, a small number of large font words, big open boxes for interactivity, cool icons. All of these things enhance the user experience and make them want more.
A recent great experience for me was trying out Codecademy. It has quite thoughtful design elements, many of them not actually visible, but so important to its almost seamless usability.
Style, similar but different than design, is more the process of following great designs, using existing aesthetics. Sometimes this works fine, but it’s not the same as amazing original design. Just look at the continuous march of Apple over the past 34 years. Great design plus engineering plus strategy. Accessibility, simplicity, completeness. They created the template for many other products’ style and design.
UX/IA is also an important part of all digital design now. First introduced in the late 1990s, it’s replaced and expanded on UI as the critical relationship people have when using products. Often it’s a pre-design process, trying to guess how people are going to use things, then use design to optimize the experience.
The new biography on Steve Jobs is a must read for any startup founder. It has the added benefit for readers of discussing in great detail Apple and NeXT design processes, justifications and investments. It also reveals that most of the design ideas were not Steve Jobs, but rather came from several design and marketing gurus he surrounded himself with.
Like I said, it’s great that Design is becoming central to the engineering-heavy world of tech startups, because ugly design sucks. @tomnora