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What value can a UI Designer bring to your startup? And, how can you successfully embed UI into your Product team?

In comparison to UX Design and User Research, which we discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, UI Design and its purpose is perhaps the most understood of the Design remit you find across a business.

That being said, there is still a gap in understanding, so I've written this blog, which focuses on all things User Interface (UI) & Visual Design for startups.

A common theme in this series is ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ and it is no different here. From what we’ve seen UI and UX are often bracketed together and ultimately this undermines a UI Designer’s place in a business.

Having worked with large, established clients prior to startups, I’ve seen how the defined split between UX and UI designers in a team is positive and allows for collaboration and innovation without the business being hindered.

In this part of the blog, I’m going to run through why you need to hire a UI Designer, when you need to hire, and where the skill set should sit within the product team and lifecycle.

The what and the why

User Interface Design in Technology refers to the design of the user interface for software or applications. It’s about programming the visual design of a product, with a view to facilitating usability and enhancing the user experience, which is explained in more depth here.

The example below, highlights UI best practice, and there are 100s if not 1000s readily available online to seek inspiration from.

UI Design best practice

Let’s say you are filling a company’s contact form on a website, your user interface, in this case, would consist of a text box, a drop-down list, a radio button and any other component which would allow you to enter your data into the company’s system.

There is certainly a grey area that encompasses both UX and UI design, but these skills are very easily separated. Where UX design is all about the user experience’s experience of the product; UI Design is all about the look, design and interface. It walks hand in hand with UX design, but is more focused on the visual communication, colours, iconography, typography etc. 

Both aspects are crucial to your business. Beyond its immediate purpose, Visual Design is also your core opportunity to define your brand beyond just the product’s functionality. 

The user’s impression of your UI becomes synonymous with your brand. Not only are the user’s able to identify with the colour scheme, typography and logos that reinforce your traditional ‘brand’, but also the experience and journey they are able to make as a result of the interface. The familiarity of the experience, simplicity and ease of use is something UI Design can influence to form a lasting impression of your brand.

Look at AirBnB for example, a clear example of exceptional frictionless user experience which also defines their brand through simple but highly effective iconography and layout:

AirBnB UI Design

There is clarity and simplicity in AirBnB’s approach to visual design. Simplistic design minimizing the choice of tabs for the user, reducing complexity in navigation. It’s a huge part of their success. 

We become used to things, repetition means we stop noticing things, reflective of their ease of use. Take something like the e-commerce marketplace where design is becoming, to an extent, somewhat standardized so you know that your basket and checkout are generally placed in the top right corner. 

You will need an understanding of design thinking and design principles, whilst also understanding that similarity, repetition and clear contrasts in the visuals are the key to building successful products that users will engage with.

These traits tie into UX design but colour theory, shapes, textures, space and form are all the building blocks of good design, and all fall within the remit of a UI designer. 

As a business you should be following the following principles when it comes to building your product:

  • Simple Interfaces are best: Use a clear language and avoid inessential elements.
  • Maintain Consistency by using common UI elements. Use elements that users are familiar with. This ensures things get done fast. It also guarantees user comfort and gratification.
  • Use smart, purposeful page layouts. Try to draw attention to the most important aspects of the website.
  • Colours and textures should be appropriately used to draw the attention of the user to a or given component. 
  • Use the best typeface to increase readability and legibility of the content
  • Use defaults to reduce the burden of the user where appropriate

The Challenges with UI Design and Startups 

Something I have touched on throughout the series is that generally, a Founder will be the reason a product exists and, often in their eyes they think they can perceive things as 'the user' too.

This is often where problems occur, assumptions are made and lack of design expertise come into play. There is an inherent lack of understanding in the value of having high-quality user interface and visual design across your website and product. 

A UI Designer’s role will be to create and define the top layer of the user experience. User interface and visual design is about making things enticing and exciting, which is amazing in terms of possibilities to innovate and define your brand. Investing in creating good designs is good for your business. 

However, without the consideration and weight of value in UX design along with this, UI design on its own is like an artist just throwing paint against the canvas with the aim of producing a hyper-realistic painting. It just won’t achieve the results you want as a business. Instead, a UI Designer will work in tandem with the UX designer and the developers, they are generally the bridge between UX design and software engineering. Using an anatomical metaphor,  the UX designer will pass over the skeleton, the UI Designer will put on the skin and the clothes  on and work with the engineer as they provide the organs to bring the product to life. 

Something that startups can be slow to consider when it comes to visual design, is that perception is key, and with user facing products, visual design is the frontline of your product and business.

As a startup, you can have poor visual design on only two occasions. Your product is either so good and serves an overwhelmingly useful purpose so that users are prepared to ignore the shortcomings in favour of its service to them. Or, your product is at prototype / MVP stage and being presented to investors who will happily overlook that, with the expectation it will be vastly improved further along the line. 

However, it is imperative that these improvements are made before your product is released to the public, if you are a startup with no market presence or brand awareness. Poor visual design and UI immediately damages your credibility and sends the wrong message. If you don’t care about the look/feel of your website and product, why should any user engage with your brand. For the user, poor user interface design results in broken links, overly complex navigation or too much variation in buttons/iconography/content.

Optimising your UI design minimises the number of customers navigating away from your product. Customers who, in the age of overwhelming choice, will likely never return to your business. It sounds dramatic but ultimately poor design choices can be up to 10x more costly for your business long-term.

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A Quick Example of good vs. bad UI design with two customer-facing products. Which company has invested in their UI, making it easier for the customer?

 

My advice is to look beyond the “let’s make it look pretty at the end” approach we see all too often with startups who just want a designer to exact their will on their product vs genuinely innovate or design for the users.

Bringing a UI designer into your business and allowing them to define your brand’s visual design and user interface will also see them conduct elements of design research to make sure the brand’s design is applicable via colour palette, typography, buttons and even animations. Throughout the product’s build, the UI Designer will closely work with the developer, to make sure their design is everything it’s supposed to be throughout the build process. 

In doing this, your designers need to design for a product with building a successful business in mind, and 9/10 times that initially involves working to develop an MVP that is professional and trustworthy to the user. Something that won’t be buggy, crash or look unpolished. If that means reduction in capability initially then don’t worry about that for now. 

Take Skyscanner as an example, who recently underwent a brand re-design, and are conducting various launches of this newly designed product with expanded features throughout the latter part of 2019. In their PR, they stated “it was clear we needed to broaden [Skyscanner’s] marketing definition and tell the story of being a flight-first compare-and-booking experience. We [are] creating a brand as well as redefining our mandate as an organisation to make sure we are telling the full breadth of our product.”

Skyscanner always had plans to enhance their service, but the initial focus was on the minimal viable product when they started, enabling them to scale successfully over time. The point is, having a dedicated design team across UX and UI from the beginning can ensure your brand and the product’s usability is accurate to the user’s needs, sustainable and scalable is essential in your businesses success. The process of design – for UI – many think the UX designer can do everything, but the sooner a UI or Visual designer can come into the process the better. 

Ok I’m ready to hire, what level do I hire at?

Junior/Mid-Level: £40-£55k 

This is the sort of hire you can make when you have a very clear idea of what you need the product to look like, and how users should interact with it. I think this hire is only possible in one of two scenarios. You either want to disregard the warning signs of hiring someone to make it look pretty at the end, in which case a relatively junior designer can do this, or you have hired a senior UX designer or researcher who can obtain feedback from the customer and understand how to drive the product forward. This enables you to hire a less experienced designer who can take requirements from the UX designer and produce visuals.  

Senior: £60-80k 

It’s quite simple, hiring at this level will allow you to hire someone who can lead on the UI decisions from colours/ iconography, layout of the page and content design. In hiring someone senior, you are unlocking a skillset within your business which will define your brand’s experience through clean and simple design.

Bringing expert UI skills into your business create an effective bridge between design and engineering, can translate high-level requirements into interaction flows and functional user interfaces. We recommend you look at hiring someone at this level as soon as possible, as it’s important for your business to choose a creative UI/UX designer team who ensures your brand’s strong presence.

The one who innovate with it for your business growth. Someone who builds comprehensive app design following industry standards that are loved by users. Honestly, from what we have seen at Confido – UI design and visual design can be a real stumbling block for products, if you are wading into defining your brand experience for the first time, or you foresee your product chopping and changing over the next 12-24 months, you want a safe pair of highly-experienced hands to ensure those changes don’t negatively impact the UI and brand experience from a visual perspective. 

Consultant: £400-£500p/d

There is always the option of hiring a contractor to deliver work on the short or long term across any skillset. UI Designers are a lot more prominent in the contract market due to delivery timescales around specific parts of visual design work.  

A contract UI designer can be hired to deliver a very small but crucial piece of visual work for a specific part of your product, that you can then use as the template across the remaining product. As contractors do, they will also bring a level of expertise that could be really useful for you when getting an MVP off the ground without committing to a full-time hire. Again, it’s all about timing and what point in your journey you are at as a startup. The average contract hire for a UI designer would be for a minimum of 6-8 weeks typically. 

Sound checking & Next Steps: 

“Visual appeal can be assessed within 50 milliseconds, suggesting that web designers have about 50 ms to make a good first impression.” 

Behaviour & Information Technology, Volume 25 - Issue 2

Our brains process visuals up to 60,000 times quicker than text. 70% of your sensory receptors are in your eyes and over 40% of the population respond better to visuals than written text. Strong visual design and clean, simple and effective user interfaces can make or break your customer engagement and its importance cannot be understated.  

When approaching the UI & visual design to your products, you really need to understand and embrace the basics of design thinking and design principles. They are hugely important in creating effective design for your product and business.

Visual design and the UI of your products/websites will be what you are most quickly judged on, and it is vital you invest in getting these two things are as best as they can be (with consideration around time constraints) before they are launched to public use. Businesses may already realise the value of strong visual design, yet they still fail to make the investment of time and capital. Don’t be one of these businesses. 

If you are at a point where you need the expertise of a UI Designer, then we are here to help. The UK is the most competitive market for talent in Europe and arguably the world. You are going up against huge tech brands, dedicated recruitment firms with established relationships and a hugely-interconnected community who are constantly introducing these businesses into their wider network.  

We are here to provide clarity and steer on this, and help you find the right level of UI designer. I think with this type of hire there is no question that you need to hire effectively and quickly. So, do reach out to us if you’d like some more information, advice or example case studies of the lessons we’ve learned working with startups in the last 12 months. 

Keep an eye out for the next part of the series which will focus on the value and hiring challenges for Content Designers.


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