8 reasons why the design team fails in product startups.

Photo by Daniel Tafjord

People always talk about design culture or a design-first approach while discussing the design. But many startups fail to build a cohesive culture with designers, which later on results in a failed team and a poor product.

Why Design culture is needed?

The answer is not as simple. It takes a huge amount of time to build a designer. Though there is no set formula as to how great designers are made, there is one thing in common, that it requires time, creativity and inspiration. For a designer to always break his own boundaries and for a newbie to become an awesome designer the key ingredient that is needed is Motivation.

That’s why a good design culture is needed within a team to keep up with the motivation. For a designer, it is of utmost importance to love what he does.

“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Below are 8 reasons why design teams fail in startups.

Lack of a robust design process

From conception to execution, design is a lengthy process. There is an involvement of different stakeholders on different stages of design. It’s right here where things go wrong. Every person has a different style of working and if there are no rules defined they go all over the place. People like to work in their comfort zone and they will eventually drag design in it. That is the death of design. That is why to set a few ground rules is necessary.

Solution: Set a process for every step of the design. There has to be a format to take the problem statement, to deliver designs and to take feedback. On the fly and verbal suggestions and feedback should be avoided.

No record and history of ADHOC tasks

Ahh! we all are aware of this, aren’t we? A small little fix that is requested at the last minute becomes a major pain in the *** later on. There are a lot of times when people will request a small feature that needs to be shipped immediately, a small component addition or showing small information on a modal. The thing with these small changes is that they are done immediately and are not thought through. A simple component addition can impact a lot of use cases which will come in light later on. It will then require another fix which will result in a lousy product in the end.

Solution: Avoid such requirements totally if possible. But if not, document every task properly. Keep a record of all the changes that you make with a clear note of why it was done. It will help you later on, trust me.

Little or no understanding of design by the stakeholders

No matter what people say about design, the perception of design is different for everybody. Mostly, I have observed what the managers need is their own solutions in the form of screens. This restricts designers to pan out and think about the problem when they are so busy looking at the solution. Most of the time stakeholders tend to forget the intangible aspects of design and focus on the tangible deliverables.

Solution: It is our responsibility to keep people in the loop and time to time communicate the intangible aspects of design to the stakeholders clearly. Ultimately, everyone wants to build an awesome product, so it is all about convincing, what is important and why.

No proper review mechanism

Feedback for any design is extremely crucial. Many times it happens that after delivering designs, designers become too busy with other assignments and they lose interest in their previous deliverables. This brings a gap between design and purpose. Many times people don’t feel the need to involve the designers post the designs are delivered.

Solution: Always remember evaluation and iteration in design is as important as the design itself. Create a proper channel for feedback, ask for analytics needed for design evaluation and figure out how your design is functioning. Make sure everyone in the design team knows how their designs are performing.

Delayed timelines

One can not keep on working on the same thing endlessly. Delay in timelines or no timelines can bring a strong amount of demotivation in the team. People lose the spark and their interest if there are only changes happening. This, in turn, results in a poor product.

Solution: Adhere to a strict deadline while starting on any design. Try and keep not more than 3 levels of iteration before making the product live. If it is happening more than 3 times that means either the brief is not properly given or there is a communication problem.

Poor communication amongst the team

Most designers tend to work in isolation. Though it is true that a designer needs his space to breathe but at the same time, keeping communication with the entire team is also very important. Lack of communication many times leads to unnecessary work being done and anxiety for other stakeholders. Good communication is also needed to gain the trust of the team you work with.

Solution: Talk to the team every day. At least start with greeting everyone in the morning. Have daily meetings within the design team to discuss what everyone is working on. This will give everyone a perspective.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw

No activities to stimulate design thinking

Most of the time going out for a drink or partying at night are seen as activities that are done to unwind from work. Party every Friday or after deployment or after achieving any small success is very common amongst startups. However, it might be necessary for team bonding but not for design stimulation. Designers need an environment of inspiration to feel good about what they do. Creative thinking needs an unoccupied brain to develop.

Solution: Spend at least 1 hour in a week with the design team in an informal session talking about new design trends, playing some game that stimulates design thinking.

Inappropriate size of the team

I have seen some startups having a very lean team such that the designers are overburdened with tasks, and some have too many designers and people are clueless about what to do. Both the scenarios are dangerous, one will affect the quality of deliverables and the later will cause unnecessary chaos amongst the team. People might leave the organization because of too much pressure and increasing design opportunities and in the latter situation, there are a lot of chances of people getting fired because of the company’s cost vs returns.

Solution: Always hire people thinking about the long term scenarios. Be sure why are you hiring the candidate and the product roadmap. Make sure the candidate checks all the right boxes before you hire. Post hiring, consider the person as your responsibility and help him/her grow in the process. Build a team this is required for the next 3 years and make additions as the organization grows and requires more people.

You might be facing some of these issues in your team as well. Consider it as a red flag and act upon it now.

In the end, Remember

“Everything is designed. Few things are designed well.”
— Brian Reed

And your team can add that ‘well’ in your product if kept the right way.

Love to declutter the world by making things simple, as they are. Afterall, everything is not a rocket science.