This increased companies' revenues by 7%

Design-first approach

Here’s a thing. McKinsey wanted to know what, really, is the impact of good design. 🤔

To find out, they tracked 300 publicly listed companies, across several industries and countries, for five years. They collected over 2 million pieces of financial data and 100,000 design actions. And at the end of it all?

They found design-focused companies have higher revenues—as much as 7% higher—than their competitors. 😳


via McKinsey

This doesn’t just apply to big companies either. As Mint experienced, and as we learned first-hand, good design establishes credibility. 🌟This, in turn, helps build trust. As Anil Dash noted, trust provides competitive advantage, insulation, and several other benefits that are especially important to startups. 🚀

All of which is why we advocate for a design-first approach.

What does a design-first approach mean? 🎨 #

For founders totally new to this topic: design is about (a) figuring how a product should work and then (b) how the workings should look. So yes, it’s creating the look and feel of your product. It’s where decisions on color, typography (the art of using fonts and typefaces), and other aesthetics happen. But more importantly, design is where you consider how a customer moves through the product and learns to work with it.

When we talk about a design-first approach, what we really have in mind is a user-first approach. Specifically, the end-user who will be adopting the app, what expectations they have, and what they need to do with it.

👉Key term

end user: the final consumer of a product; the person a piece of software is built for

The reverse implications of user-first approach are important but easy to miss. Starting with the end-user and what’s best for them means NOT starting with:

  • What the team thinks is pretty

  • Whatever is fast and trendy

  • Visuals that are easiest for the development team

Another subtle implication?

User-first means user, not founder, first. 😬That can be a tough pill for founders to swallow. After all, shouldn’t the product conform to what you want and have in mind? Especially since, you know, you’re footing the bill?

Well, not exactly. At least, not if you want to succeed. You are not the end-user, even if you initially use your own product. So you need to listen to other voices—your end-users voices’—to get someplace meaningful and profitable. 💵

Two core components of a design-first approach #

1. Understanding your customers 👥

Good design focuses on the customer. Some people need a hammer, others need a sander; a good design choice in one product could be a terrible choice in another product. Paul Graham put it well when he said, “Design begins by asking, who is this for and what do they need from it? A good architect, for example, does not begin by creating a design that he then imposes on the users, but by studying the intended users and figuring out what they need.”

It may sound obvious, but it isn’t. The same McKinsey study I mentioned above found, “Over 40 percent of the companies surveyed still aren’t talking to their end users during development.” Yikes! 😱

2. Understanding outcomes 🔍

Good design takes into account not only who needs to use the product (end-user), but what they need to do with it (outcome).

When we build an app, we look at every screen and ask:

  • What is the ONE action end-users need to take on this page?

  • What do we need to put on the page to make it super obvious end-users should take the action?

  • What needs to be on the page so end-users can take that action?

Okay, this is great, but surely design isn’t EVERYTHING? #

Design is an indispensable tool, but it’s not the only tool you should prioritize. After all, a beautiful product that lags and glitches will still infuriate your customers.

First Round Review’s stool analogy illustrates this well.


Via First Round Review

Both as you start out (Figure A) and as you grow (Figure B) your product needs equal support from design, engineering, and product—e.g. Product marketing, strategy, growth—roles.

If you weaken or remove any of those three legs, it’s pretty clear what’ll happen. At best, you’ll have a shaky product. At worst, you topple over.

So yes, focusing on design is critical. And it’s a damn-fine place to start because it emphasizes the end-user from the get-go. But it’s not the only critical factor in success. It works hand-in-hand with development and business strategy, both now and as you take off.

Curious how all this works at Krit? Check out how an idea becomes an app.

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