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Chris Ashby
September 9, 2021

Three steps to make sure you hire the right design service for your startup

What to look for in any designer or service you hire, and how to ensure any design efforts align with your business objectives.

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

When I left my job to start my own business, I figured that every founder I spoke to would have a good idea of what ‘good design’ looked like. After all, I did, so why wouldn’t they.

Trouble is, I’d spent 10 years as a designer mostly in-house, and to me, spotting good design in a sea of bad design was just automatic. I knew instinctively why one design would convert more than another, it was natural.

I figured I could have conversations with on-the-ball startup founders about this, and they would understand the pains I had gone through working for big companies who didn’t understand the value of good design, or even how to spot it. And they would see the value in a service that helped them impact growth through design.

I figured I could slot right in to their businesses, and get to work designing in a way that would help them grow their business, not just look pretty.

But what I learnt quickly was this — most founders aren’t designers, and haven’t ever been designers. In fact, a lot of founders straight up just don’t care about design. And what I realised, was that was fine.

It made complete sense. Not caring about design is absolutely understandable in that situation, especially when your primary objective is growth.

But the thing is — great design = growth.

So I want to help de-mystify design for startup founders, side hustler entrepreneurs, and anyone who is thinking about starting their own venture.

Here’s three ways you can spot great design, using the Kano model of user needs & satisfaction. How to know if a service is right for your business, and how to make sure design is always aligned with your business objectives.

How to spot great design (Expected quality)

The first step is recognising what great design actually is. This is a difficult one, because only you can answer this, and it comes down to a number of emotional and qualitative factors as well as quantitative.

This is your minimum benchmark for any design effort in your business (the must have in the Kano model). This is the minimum level of quality for your consumers to feel confident in you, and for you to feel proud of your venture.

From a quantitative point of view you need to be looking for:

  • Plenty of white space so that design elements don’t feel cramped
  • High enough text contrast so that text is legible, accessible and readable
  • Consistent design elements that reflect your branding
  • Optimised mobile designs that flow just as well on mobile devices
  • Typographic heirarchy so that headings, subheadings, and body copy is correctly balanced.

Look for examples of other work, websites and designs of other startups, and pick out the ones you think work really well. Figure out why you think they work well. And then look for designers or services that offer a similar level f quality.

Don’t be afraid to test any design you get done as well. Put some money into a service like Prolific and put your design in front of potential customers. See what they say, and amend from there.

On the qualitative side, you need to make sure of a few things, otherwise you’ll regret your decision as soon as you get your first designs back:

  • You feel good about how your company or brand is being presented
  • You feel confident that the design direction aligns with your target customer/user
  • You feel like your brand is in a strong enough place to guide the design of any other assets

Once you have these, you can start to determine if a service or designer might be right for you or not.

How to know if a service is right for your business (Desired quality)

Following the Kano model, understanding if a service is right for you is akin to meeting the desired quality you are looking for.

If you use a service that doesn’t align with your brand values, your businesses market, or any number of other factors, you can end up spending a lot of money for minimal gain, and a negative impact on your business.

Whereas if you hire a service or designer that aligns with your values, has experience in your target market, and you get on well with on a day to day basis, the proceeding results in quality and business impact can be exponential.

Ask yourself the following questions before hiring a designer or bringing onboard a design service:

  • Does this service operate in my target market?
  • Do they have experience working with similar companies to mine?
  • Does their brand, tone of voice, or style align with my company values and branding?
  • Did my first conversation with them feel natural and easy, or was it stilted and awkward?
  • Do I feel confident that they can add value to what I’m trying to accomplish?

After you’ve taken these steps to find the service or designer that’s right for you, then you have just one final hurdle to overcome.

Making sure any designs you ask for or request align with your business objectives, in order to truly impact growth.

How to use design to impact your business growth (Excited quality)

In simple terms, this is very straightforward:

Design should always be a strategic contributor to your business.

This is the ‘excited quality’ in the Kano model, which means you don’t necessarily lose anything by not having this in place. You’ll be in the same spot as so many other founders and startups who don’t do this.

But, if you do get it right, it can give you a whole new stream of growth for your business. This is what I personally get excited about! This is about taking design beyond just good looks and great working relationships.

This is about using design to have a true impact.

So how do you make sure any design efforts you ask for do that?

Well, first you need a solid growth strategy in place with your designer or service. You need to work with them to run workshops, come up with ideas for growth, and then ruthlessly prioritise those growth ideas based on their potential impact.

This is where design becomes a strategic partner to your business. You aren’t just hiring a designer or service to design what you want, you’re hiring a designer or service to work with you in order to grow your business.

Ask your designer or design service:

  • How could we make this design convert users better?
  • How could we make this design help us achieve [objective]?
  • How could we make this feature improve our marketing efforts?
  • How could this design deliver more impact for [business area]?

Constantly challenge your designer or design service to work with you strategically, to answer those questions, and to always be focused on your objectives.

Because if you ask a designer to just create a design, they will, and then move on to their next boring job.

But if you ask a designer what they think, to contribute, and to use their experience and expertise, to help you impact a specific objective, then that designer will go above and beyond to deliver.

If you like this, sign up to the Daily Design Coffee ☕, and wake-up your website, product, or service to it’s true potential, with a new design tip in your inbox every weekday. Because design should be more than just aesthetics, it should also have impact (just like a good espresso).

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