Setting up a design team in startups and emerging tech companies

Micha Goldfine - Monday, January 25, 2016

As with many young start-ups, design is not a top priority certainly not a dedicated design team. Fortunately times are changing (fast) and design, driven by User Experience Design (UXD) has become a crucial part in the success of tech companies.

Humans have a very good memory and we use that memory to link between various messages and experiences we encounter daily. A product design, it’s user interface, logo, help manual, customer support and a website are all connected and create an experience. This is why I believe that it’s important to centralise all external and internal communication channels into a dedicated design team. 

Having an in-house design team that looks after product design (UX/UI), brand and marketing content and a dedicated web development team is essential to keep user experience consistent.

UX is part of the brand

Having a plush brand might attract new customers but a bad product will overrule that first impression pretty quickly. Both brand and product design must be aligned, morph and move together. Having product and graphic designers work together, meet and share ideas has a big impact on the final overall experience design.

User Experience (UX) is a cycle, starting from a person’s needs to purchase decisions to usage, support and eventually brand loyalty. Each stage in a customer journey requires design. Consistant design and attention to details influences our cognitive decisions. 

A customer journey might look like this (something you probably have experienced yourself many times, even today):

  1. Research (websites, social media, forums, trade shows etc.)
  2. Decision (marketing, sales)
  3. Purchasing (sales)
  4. Setup (help and support, wizards etc.)
  5. Billing (accounting, marketing and sales)
  6. Feedback (website, social media, support etc.)
  7. Brand loyalty (marketing, upgrades etc.)

Experience Design Cycle

A blend of traditional graphic design and product design forms a brand identity.

Building a design team

When setting up a team of designers it’s important to recruit not only great designers with an appetite for curiosity but also ones that want to, and can fit in a corporate environment. Even though the aim is to act like an in-house agency, in reality the vast amount of projects and daily tasks revolve around the same product and industry. That needs to be clear as many designers look for diversity and can ‘burnout’ pretty quickly.

The basic structure of the design team will consist of graphic designers, product designers and front-end developers.

Graphic Design

The graphic design team will include an art-director, senior and junior designers and freelances if needed, project coordinators and production managers. As a minimum a senior graphic designer that can develop a brand and set guidelines will be the first person to hire.

Product Design

The product design team (UX team) looks after the experience from a user perspective (vs business objectives). This includes researching personas, conducting user feedback surverys, interface and interactions design, testing, analysing, iterating etc.

Web Team (Front-end developers)

The web team is responsible for developing and maintaining the marketing websites and EDMs, liaising daily with content creators, SEO and SEM specialists, perform updates and matrix tests. It never ends for this team.

Design Team

Admin and environment

A creative studio requires processes and tools that are different then what developers and managers require. There is nothing worse then showing up to work for the first time and to find that you will be using an aged PC with Microsoft Office as your main creative tool. Ye, lets design in Powerpoint. 

Designers require design tools, clear briefing processes, a creative open space, whiteboards and enough walls to hang prints and inspirations, up to date software and a dedicated file server.

Folder and file naming structure is crucial to keep track of things and to be able to easily archive and search. How many times did you need to find that ’needle in the haystack’? better to have that needle named and archived correctly.

Briefing and processes

There is nothing more annoying then receiving a vague brief with unrealistic deadlines. To make sure things run as smooth as possible it’s important to create a briefing process and setup expected timeframes from the start. A dedicated project management tool such as Asana is a great tool to manage projects and tasks and we found that it eliminates long email threads and confusion.

Sharing and Communicating Some sharing tools are better then others and we live in a time that new tools emerge constantly promising us bells and whistles and features we ‘must’ have. Whatever you decide to use try to use only one tool. Our graphic designers are happy with Asana, emails and prints. Our experience designers use pen and paper and whiteboards for quick drafts and tools like UXPin for hi/low fidelity design flows.

Design Consistency 

Customers value a company from the first experience link (marketing) to daily usage and support. A strong trusted brand is a brand that doesn’t hide behind a fancy logo and tagline. A strong trusted brand is a brand that uses the same design language across all user interactions. Establishing that consistant and unique language is far better done in a single dedicated design team.

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