We can't not judge a book (or a tech startup) by it's cover
Some reasons for investing in design early in your start up, and why it has worked for us.
I went to a friend's house a few days ago for a bbq. I got into a conversation with one of their neighbors, small talk ensues. His name is Milt, he is an author. I tell him that I'm a designer.
Milt mentions to me he's got a new book coming out soon and that he's been working with a graphic designer on his new cover. We get into the topic of how important a book cover is, and he's passionate about making his book look good and really stand out. He's very pleased with it so far, but it seems like a very long thought-out process. Though I'm a bit ashamed to say so, I told him that I buy books based on design. You can call it work research, inspiration or maybe home decor - but I love book design. Print is very much alive in my household, and I love seeing beautiful covers, the feeling of quality paper and the subtleties of great type choices or layout.
We all know the saying "don't judge a book by it's cover." Just because something looks good on the outside, doesn't mean the stories or content is any good. But we all do it, and it doesn't mean it's not important.
The quality of printing, a beautiful cover, interesting typography. It's not what makes an interesting story, but these things add to the overall experience of a book as well. The design process bleeds into the process of making a book, it enhances the story telling, and emphasizes the care someone takes in the details of it. Beyond just making the sale, book design does more than grab people's attention - it shows to you every aspect of the process that isn't captured in the written words.
Tech companies, especially start ups, seem to not value design in the early stages. I get it. It's harder to find metrics of how it's actually creating value for a company. You're strapped for cash, so it's easier to employ another developer or sales person. I think it's easy to come up with reasons to skip design (especially for non designers), but much more difficult to come up with reasons to invest in it.
But I want to make an argument for the importance of design early on. At Tability, one out of the two of us does design. Design plays a big part in everything we do. 6 months since our public launch, we have seen benefits to investing in design. Here are a few positives of a design led start-up.
We can't compete on marketing budget, but we can compete on experience
As a start up in our early stages, we don't have the budget to throw money at Google Ads. I'm sure that's the case with most SaaS start ups. What we can do without spending a dime, is really take the time to create a good experience for you. Our user-experience in-app, easy to follow landing pages and documentation, a delightful brand. It's all part of a design philosophy we have. We promote good design here to not only sell, but to set a standard that we carry into the product too. After all why design a beautiful cover, if everything inside sucks.
Enterprise software needs doesn't have to be boring
Our landing page designs have been featured on inspiration sites like land-book and lapa.ninja. We don't do any web advertising, and sites like this constantly bring traffic to our page - and some even sign up. We draw people in with good design, nice landing pages, and at the very least, spark an interest in people through our design. Those curious people become leads and sign ups and we have done nothing except build a nice looking website.
We also spend a good amount of time on our mascot Tabby. He brings us joy, and he brings a sense of delight to the product as well. 🥰
Simplicity is hard, we can't do that if we consider design a second class citizen
Another misconception of adding a designer is that a designer only designs. A good designer is more about asking questions than about pushing pixels. We are critical thinkers above all. At Tability heavily value the simplicity of our product, so we make sure that everything we build is built in the most intuitive, and user-friendly way we can.
My co-founder, Sten, always says I have a healthy skepticism when it comes to work. He's a guy that has a million ideas per minute. I try not to be want to be mean, but I'm a critic always. If Sten has an idea, I try to poke as many holes in it and see if it still holds up. If it does, we build it.
I do that to make sure we're always building the best we can build and only those things. Keeping things simple is key, and when everyone on your team is worried about coming up with ideas and building new features, there needs to be someone there to be like "hold up, we can make all of this way simpler."
6 months since we launched brand and product, we've seen positive signs of design and we have no regrets about how we structured our business around design early on.
Tell us your story! We want to know of other designer founders out there doing their thing! And as always, we're looking for more feedback on everything design and product. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or via email@example.com.