Design is an investment, not an expense. But it's not uncommon to hear startups claim that they value design, but are going to wait to engage a design team later:
"We need design, but we just can't afford it right now."
"Maybe after we launch our MVP."
"We're waiting for our Series A."
While I have been lucky enough to collaborate with some of the most design-centric companies in the world, there are still those that don't know what they don't know. They have been advised that they need design, but they don't understand how it can help them reach or surpass their goal, so they don't go all in.
Many times, this results in a company's cutting corners, deferring design to a later date, or using a cheap, inexperienced resource that ultimately costs them more.
The value of design is no longer a mystery. It has been quantified by analysts, case studies, and the market. When fully embraced, design permeates every aspect of a product and its company. It guides all touch points--products, services, communications, investor pitches, and the customer-service department.
After 30 years as a designer and entrepreneur, this is what I know:
Design can influence the trajectory of your company out of the gate, boosting your market momentum and valuation. It can ensure the best MVP and help raise a Series A.
Good design levels the playing field and gives you an unfair strategic advantage to compete against industry incumbents with huge marketing, advertising, and R&D budgets.
Well-designed products start conversations and generate their own marketing fuel. Think of entrepreneur-born companies like Nest, Tesla, Dyson, and Square. When you cut corners on design, you pay in marketing and advertising to make up the difference. Invest in design now or pay later.
If you are an established company, your cash cow may be at risk if you're not constantly making the product and customer experience better. If you are not actively evolving your product, you could be a day or a month or a year away from being disrupted by a scrappy, design-driven company with much smaller resources.
Design is optimization, tireless refinement, and the rethinking of assumptions. It's the best way to combat competition and stay immune from commoditization. You'll never win playing the cheaper-faster game. There will always be someone else cheaper and faster.
So when you pick a design partner, don't trust hype. Do your research--check references and track records. Choose for your design team people who have had commercialization and manufacturing experience, and maybe even have manufactured their own products. You'll extract valuable tips from their successes and their failures. And most important, they will have empathy for your position as a founder, because they have taken the journey you are on.