Everything You Should Know About Designing For Startups.

You don’t have to be a designer to think like a designer.

Aditya Krishna
9 min readJan 4, 2020
Source: MixKit

TL;DR: In this story, I’ve covered the most essential aspects of working in startups. Here’s a top level idea:
1. Connect every dot possible with the business goal.
2. Know the process before you burn your fingers
3. An effective ways to articulate your work.
4. Work-life balance
5. Handling emotional burnouts

If this excites, go on reading.
If it doesn’t, do comment what else you expect. I’m all ears.

Let’s begin with a the simplest definition. Design is so many things, executed in many different ways, but the function is always the same. Design can help solve a visual or physical problem.

Before I touch base on designing for startups, let me share my view point on what’s a startup and what do they do.

Let’s understand a startup

A startup is a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed.

Most of the startups are built for a repeatable and scalable business model.
That’s the reason we have so many alternatives for a same problem statement, each startup has their own way to solve users problem.

Coming back to Designing for startups

Startup is a journey which travels from Making people want things (Marketing) to Making things people want (Design).

An ideal way is to design the business around the experience, instead of the experience around the business.

Here’s an example of Old sequential approach vs Lean startup approach.

Nobody wants a crappy expensive products that require too much time and money. That’s where Lean Startup or Minimum Viable Product (MVP) comes into picture.

Process of designing for startup

Quick digest on the process

  1. Build multiple MVPs
  2. Don’t spend months waiting for a nice product and then change the company’s direction.
  3. Adapt your plan incrementally, inch by inch, minute by minute.
  4. Don’t assume results — Go and see for yourself.

What to validate?

Source: MixKit

Try to understand the following points

  1. Customer problem
  2. Product Concept
  3. If the minimum set of features solve that problem.

You may think, why designers should know about the revenue and channels to the customers. The reason is simple: with out knowing who/ how will use the product you can make the experience better.

Don’t be afraid to ask this questions to your boss/ manager, you can ask these question over a cup of coffee. Casual chats about the business of your product is a healthy thing to have.

Most of the managers who are matured enough will not feel insecure sharing the pointers which are mentioned above. Go head and ask, be aware of who is using the product you and your team designed.

Key learnings from this approach

  1. Move as fast as possible
  2. Learn as much as possible
  3. Don’t be afraid to fail
  4. Validate everything

Few harsh realities

90% of the startups fail.
70% of all new product launches fail in the first year.
80% of the new products fail.
3/4 of the startups fail.

Key elements to consider while designing for startups.

1. People-centered
You start from what people, users, customers, consumers, need or want to do. Their motivations and the problems they are trying to solve.
Empathy is key. It’s not about you. You need the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

2. Highly creative
Design thinking stimulates you to look at situations differently and come up with new solutions, that go beyond and improve existing alternatives. Integrative thinking is key. You need the ability to look at all the different aspects of a problem

3. Sketch it on.
Stop discussing, start working. Make ideas tangible. Prototyping is thinking with your hands. Failure is part of the process in order to succeed. Experiments with trial and error are key.

4. Iterative
The road to success does not follow a straight line. The more you are able to loop through “Understand > Create > Learn” cycle, the higher chance you have for good results.

The Power of the 5 Whys

Five whys should be used to get to the very root of a reasons for a problem. It also shows the relationships between several causes of the problem.

Source: MixKit
  1. Write down a specific problem
  2. Ask the team to individually write down why that is happening.
  3. Form a new problem from the answers the team gave.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 four more times or as much as necessary.
  5. Analyze the results and form relationships between answers.


The television stopped working. (the problem)

First Why? — The cable got burnt.

Second Why? — The power supply was fluctuating.

Third Why? — The power stabilizer got some issue.

Fourth Why? — The power stabilizer was 20 years old and we didn’t replaced since we bought it.

Fifth Why? (Root cause) — The stabilizer was not maintained/ replaced according to the recommended service schedule.

Note: They key is asking relevant questions. If you don’t get to the root cause, repeat the steps again until you reach there.

Origin: Sakichi Toyoda, the Japanese industrialist, inventor, and founder of Toyota Industries, developed the 5 Whys technique in the 1930s.

It became popular in the 1970s, and Toyota still uses it to solve problems today.

Toyota has a “go and see” philosophy. This means that its decision making is based on an in-depth understanding of what’s actually happening on the shop floor, rather than on what someone in a boardroom thinks might be happening.

Articulating your work

There is a difference between a good orator and an articulator.
Being a blend of both is gem.

Remember this: In business or anywhere you go, articulating and being inline to the subject also bundling with facts always stays memorable to the audience and that wins the show.

Source: MixKit

Few aspects to consider while articulating:

  • Business Goals — Connect every dot possible with the business goal. Every designer should have an understanding of the “why” behind their designs with metrics, stats, or examples to back it up. CEOs don’t pay designers to create pretty designs, they’re paying for the value those designs deliver.
  • Needs of Users — UX is the intersection of business goals and users needs. Be able to empathize with users, know who they are, and explain why your designs meet users needs.
  • Hierarchy — One of the most important aspect of design. You guide users by making prominent what’s most important and obscuring what’s less.

Key points to consider while articulating

  1. What problem does it solve?
  2. How does it affect the user?
  3. Why is it better than the alternative?
  4. Learn to see how your solutions fit into the big picture.
  5. Backup your arguments with evidence.
  6. Avoid repeating yourself.

Keep in mind that the people you’re presenting to are not likely to be designers themselves especially clients, so what might be clear to you may not be to them.

Work-life balance

Work > Save > Travel > Repeat

  1. A “yes” should be rare. Learn to say no!
  2. Resting is just as important as putting in hard work.
  3. Never make a decision or work for too long on an empty stomach

4. Stay mindful and open to issues that arise

5. Do the toughest and most important things first

6. Go on vacation and visit a new place

7. Exercise or take a walk around the block

Why Can’t Startups Find Designers?

The first step is to admit that they couldn’t find designers.

In reality, the traditional processes always won’t work. if anyone is really serious about getting the designer, there is no other way to do that without serious and in-person networking within the communities where these designers exist.

Emotional Burnouts — One of the common after effects

Source: MixKit

There are ways to avoid this, let’s read one by one.

  • Diagnose
    No one wants to feel like they can’t handle the pressures.
    You’ve won half the battle if you can identify that you’re experiencing burnout.
  • Break
    This doesn’t necessarily have to be a vacation. Just make sure you are setting aside time to focus on yourself.
  • Switch
    Don’t get stuck in one place, if you a laptop move and work from different spots. If not, every 30mins take walk and come back in 5–10 mins. It works like magic, you will feel fresh and better.
  • Move
    This is science. When you exercise you are happier, get better sleep, have more energy, and have a better memory.
  • Sleep
    You must need your 8 hours. Sleep isn’t just something you do when you’re tired. It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.
  • Speak.
    Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. If you’re on a team, tell your manager. If you work for yourself, talk to a loved one or talk to a doctor. They can help you find out a solution.

I happened to share this story during one my design talk for hellomeets on Dec 07, 2019

HelloMeets helps like-minded people meet through meetups. I’ve always been a community person. Community of like-minded people is one of the most essential components to enhance your skills. Stretch yourself beyond your network of colleagues to connect with other diverse creatives who will inspire you. Be active in seeking out a community where you can share best practices.

Photo courtesy: Hellomeets

I must admit that whatever I’m today is because of the people whom I’ve interacted with, It has given me the experience and new mentors to help solve the tough problems and take advantage of the opportunities.

If you enjoyed this story, then show your support by hitting clap 👏 icon down there to help others find it. I invite your comments 💬 .

Thank you for reading 🙏 .

About Author:
Hello! I’m Aditya Krishna a.k.a Aditya Dhotre, I have worked with a number of clients, both independently and through corporates. Sometimes, I’m fortunate to teach and give lectures. I’m fuelled by true passion, with an excellent eye for detail & craftsmanship.

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Aditya Krishna

Exploring the world through art and design. Always on the hunt for new inspiration and adventures.