How to Design Great Software Products in Small Startups

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February 9, 2020 by Ilona

If you are aware of the values of carrying out the Product Design Process, then you are halfway through the success!

And when you are starting out, you tend to change processes every day, until the team figures out which processes are the most efficient for them to deliver faster.

If you want to have time for everything: raising children, loving, working, playing sports, relaxing, you need more time. Only those who work faster and better will flourish.
– Carl Sewell, Customers for Life.

You can build a good digital product by working in a small team in the beginning. Just think about the most strong brands with their successful digital products: I am sure, all of them that came to your mind started small in the past.

In fact, the product design process is one of those questions that is done differently everywhere.

Typically founders take responsibility when it comes to this. For example, at Foundsiders, I am in charge of developing the design concept, and other co-founder implements it into the working application for the most part.

Founders who are bootstrapping their products clearly understand the advantage of working on a small team: the smaller the team, the less formal the process is.

For design products at small startups, it usually means that the team can re-design pages/flows on the fly in their code, view that code in browser debugger/inspector, and iterate again.

Moreover, much of the design will probably be on paper or whiteboard. How does it work:

  1. Someone has an idea 💡
  2. Quick discussion 💬 on the feasibility of the idea
  3. Do a quick research 👩‍🔬 to understand: why users will need this idea and which user’s problem will it solve. This will lead to a rough blueprint of the feature in the next step.
  4. Sketching out and wireframing 🏗 the idea into the app screen. It’s necessary to refine and iterate on the vision from the wireframe, so you can use Balsamiq to do that.
  5. Design mode 🎨 Going through each wireframe and laying design mockups on top with the Sketch app. However, you can use whatever app that works for you. It’s just a tool.
  6. Export ready mockups to Zeplin. Then as the team, we can navigate around it, perform design reviews 📝 and agree on what is going to be implemented.
  7. Build the idea into the product locally. Frankly building a feature into a static frontend 👩‍💻 version of the product.
  8. Validation and iteration within the team 👩‍💻👨‍💻
  9. Validation outside of the team with the potential user 👤 (Don’t skip this step if at all possible).
  10. Again iterate to decide ⚖️ whether to develop the idea implementation further, change direction, or drop the idea altogether.
  11. Develop the end-version of the idea into production and deploy it ✅
  12. Gain learnings from data collection 📊 (review engagement and conversions).

Here is a brief explanation of the feature development cycle for the digital product:

Simple design process that just works

Since you work at a small startup, you have a few resources. And it’s for the better. Because everything works best when all hands are helping out and always have what to do.

For instance, the non-technical co-founders can be validating the usability running it by potential users or coming up with better ideas, do customer and market research, and so on. The tech people are doing everything the non-tech people are in addition to building out the tech according to their professional expertise.

Photo by William Iven from Unsplash