By Ashish Patil
Design is one of the most crucial elements of any startup. The product (which can be a service) needs to connect with the user both functionally and aesthetically as well as achieve business objectives effectively. As a startup journeys from concept to final product, various factors influence execution: resources are limited, new information about the opportunity unfolds, and deadline pressures are ever-present. With regard to design, I do believe there are unifying themes and principles that apply across disciplines and industries. I studied design theory in depth when I took Professor Gregg Versonder’s Human-Computer Interaction course at the University of Pennsylvania. Although focused on IT user-interface design, the course reinforced principles I experienced through my medical device startup, Medivity, as well as my apparel startup, ARE 5 Apparel, which I am currently developing in the Wharton Venture Initiation Program. Despite the fact that these are completely different types of ventures, I realized that there are commonalities, and really that I am a user-experience designer at heart.
With Medivity, we took a medical device concept from a physician and engineered a prototype through the user-centered designprocess. We interacted heavily with the physician (user) to understand the procedure, to develop the functional goals of the device, and to work together with our engineers to build a viable product. It helped that this physician is forward-thinking when it comes to product applications in his specialty; therefore, I would advise any entrepreneur to involve a lead user in the product development process.
In addition to implementing a user-centric design process, it is also important to understand the type of design talent you require. As I mentioned previously, I see myself as a user-experience designer. I have the ability to design a solution for functionality (i.e., create something that connects with users and works in their environment).
I know that in order to deliver the best product or service, I must rely on outside talent groups such as engineers and graphic designers as I have done with both Medivity and ARE 5 Apparel. At Medivity, my co-founding team and I brought a level of creativity to the process whereas our technical designers brought a deeper level of engineering knowledge. At ARE 5 Apparel, my co-founder, Jon Striefsky, and I support our artistic designers in a variety of ways by educating them about our customer, suggesting design enhancements, and assessing the scalability of the design.
Every startup needs to understand their innovation process and how value is added to their initial concept to achieve an optimal final product. Who needs to work their magic on the design and at what point in the process does that person interact with the design? It is essential that everyone clearly communicates the reasoning behind their design contributions. (Is it to enhance the user experience? Does it help the company achieve new business objectives?) As you change business objectives/product specs, an iterative process through your design stage will keep you on the right path. My final piece of advice is that simplicity is very important, especially in today’s world. With the wealth of distractions, users will be appreciative of a simple, clean product that provides them with the most overall value. There isn’t a need to jam every feature into the product. Rather, talk to your users and get a feel for what they truly need.
In the grand scheme of things, understand what talents and abilities you bring to the design table and identify talent you need to create that amazing product. These lessons on design are crucial for your startup to reduce development costs, to pivot your development onto newly discovered opportunities, and to create a valued product on schedule. Ultimately, focusing on your design needs will help you maintain your sanity through this very uncertain process.
Ashish is currently an Executive Masters in Technology Management (EMTM) student at The University of Pennsylvania. He is the co-founder of ARE 5 Apparel. Prior to Penn, Ashish obtained his BS in Biomedical Engineering from Georgia Tech, founded a medical device startup, and worked in healthcare consulting as an operations analyst. Ashish’s interests include healthcare, entertainment, operations, and innovation. Outside the world of startups, Ashish is the Wharton Philly Club President, enjoys skiing, and plays pickup basketball.