Design for start-ups
Understand the role of design in starting a business and its importance when developing new products or services, or entering new markets
Design is a critical element in any start-up business. It influences the way your products, packaging, marketing and websites look and work.
It also affects how your customers use and value your products and services, how your workplace is set up and run and the efficiency of your processes. For a new business, design can be an excellent competitive advantage. It is worth considering how design can help in every area of your business.
This guide explains how design affects your business and helps you understand different aspects of design. It outlines how to identify and evaluate design, learn about design methods, access professional help and develop an understanding of more detailed design considerations.
The information in this guide is aimed at start-ups, businesses developing new products and services, and those entering new markets.
How design affects your business
Good design can help your business thrive by improving your brand, products, services, packaging and many other aspects of your business
Design can affect your business in many ways. It can help determine or improve:
- the look and feel of your products and services
- the packaging the products are in
- the functionality of your office space
- your branding and marketing collateral
What is the importance of design?
Using design is not just about making the things you create look good. It's about making them work efficiently to increase the profitability of your business.
For new businesses, it can be useful to understand how different aspects of design can help develop or enhance many aspects of your business.
The role of design in business
Working with designers in a range of design disciplines - such as graphic design, service design, workplace design and retail design - can bring many advantages to your business. For example, design can help you to:
- attract and retain customers
- streamline processes and operations
- create better interactions and experiences for staff, customers and suppliers
- develop new products and services and take them to market
Product designers can help you research and develop your ideas and concepts using computer-aided design. They can also test your concepts with customers and manufacturers using rough models before producing detailed prototypes that you can cost and evaluate. Find out more about concept development and testing.
Brand designers can help you create a consistent image across all aspects of your business. Your brand should make your products and services attractive and distinctive. Read about creating a brand strategy for business.
Graphic designers communicate ideas and information through visual methods, such as in your business' marketing and sales material, signage, logos, reports, websites and stationery. Graphic design is a key aspect of building a brand.
Service designers can help you plan and organise the people, infrastructure, communications and materials that make up the service you deliver.
Workplace design is an important consideration for any business employing staff because the space in which they work can have a direct impact on your staff's productivity and creativity. Also, if your workplace is regularly visited by your clients, it can affect how your company is perceived.
Ecodesign - or 'green design' - is a process where raw materials, manufacture, distribution and end use of products are all considered within the overall design. You can apply ecodesign to both existing and new products. See ecodesign in product and service development.
Packaging design is also very important when selling your product. Your packaging can help you protect your product in transit, storage or during distribution and it can also reduce your environmental impact. Find product packaging design: top tips or see how you can design packaging to reduce environmental impacts.
Understanding different aspects of design
Business benefits of different design elements, including user-centred and sustainable design, as well as designing work processes, supply chain and office spaces
There are many aspects of design that are useful for businesses, in addition to the different design disciplines.
User-centred design is a proven business strategy. It is based on getting a detailed understanding of your products' or services' end-users and their needs and designing your product or service to meet those requirements. Read more on user-centred design.
Sustainable design - also known as ecodesign, green or clean design - involves designing or redesigning products, services, processes or systems to avoid or repair damage to the environment, society and the economy. It has many business benefits, including:
- cost savings
- increased customer satisfaction
- reduced liabilities for environmental damage
- lower insurance premiums
See more on ecodesign in product and service development.
Product life cycle design
Product life cycle design is a feature of sustainable design. It is based on considering the whole life cycle of a product or service from the design stage, through production, sale, use and end of life. The aim is to make sure that your product or service:
- meets its purpose in the most efficient way during production, sale and use
- can be remanufactured, disassembled or recycled easily once it is no longer in use
Work process design
This aims to find the best way to produce your goods and services, starting from your suppliers and inputs, through the production process and on to outputs and customers. These processes can then be tracked on a process flow chart or other system. It can improve work procedures and systems and reduce inefficiency and waste.
Supply chain design
This concentrates on the physical and geographical aspects of the supply chain, to make sure that it is based on the most efficient and sustainable sources of inputs for your business. See how to reduce the environmental impact of your supply chain.
Good architecture and design of work spaces can help your business be a better employer, increase efficiency and gain more customers.
To learn more about the role of design in business, see how design affects your business.
How to develop a brand strategy for start-ups
How to develop a brand strategy for your business and make your brand design stand out from the crowd
Good brand design is a way of associating a clear, consistent set of values with your products and services. This is a good way of attracting new customers and making sure that existing customers and contacts remember your business.
How do you develop a brand strategy?
Brand strategy draws on many design disciplines. It aims to produce a long-term plan for the development of a company's brand in order to achieve specific goals, ie tap into the consumer needs, emotions or establish a competitive presence.
Brand strategy includes an element of graphic design, which is used to establish your business' identity through visual means such as:
- business name's colours and lettering style
Your brand strategy will also include a communication component that will look at:
- identifying your audience
- determining what your message it
- deciding on the creative (ie image attributes) you will use to send out your message
You may also want to consider as part of your brand strategy elements of product and packaging design, as well as retail design and visual merchandising to create the right look and environment in your shops, market stalls or window displays.
Not all types of brand strategies may be suitable for your business. See more on choosing the right brand strategy.
Brand design building blocks
Your brand should be:
- simple, memorable, consistent
- relevant to your customers and their needs - aim to create associations that are appropriate to your product or service, whether this is aspirational, reliable etc
- reinforced whenever possible on all communications, marketing, websites, business and sales environments
- current and fresh - so make changes when necessary, although this won't usually involve reinventing the brand unless your business changes radically
- effective in all media - from print and TV, to digital and social media advertising
Decide how much of the brand design you can do yourself and what you will employ a designer for. Either way, it's a good idea to involve employees. They know your products or services well and are likely to be familiar with your customers.
For more information, find 8 design tips for creating a successful brand and watch a case study below to see how Traction Finance successfully rebranded their business for growth.
How to find the right designer or design agency
How to choose the right designer or design agency to work with, and develop an ongoing relationship with them
If you decide you want to use a professional designer or consultant, it is important to make the right choice and to include them in your project from the earliest stage.
How a designer can help you
A designer can offer you a range of useful skills and knowledge. For example, they can:
- be specialists in an area such as website design, marketing or product research
- be a consultant with an overview of your business sector or market
- maximise your team's potential to use good design - read about setting up a design team
- free your time to work on other aspects of your business
- provide an outsider's overview - you may be too close to see the best way forward
Finding the right designer
You can find designers from a variety of sources, including:
- word of mouth
- inspirational case studies - eg from the Design Council or the Design for Europe
- searchable directories - eg search the British Design Innovation (BDI) directory
- help from a business adviser - find your local Enterprise Agency
Once you find and shortlist possible designers, ask them:
- for a summary of their credentials
- to explain briefly how they would approach your project
You may want to commission your preferred agencies to do some preliminary creative work for a fee. You can evaluate that before selecting your final agency.
When making your final choice, consider the designers':
- track record
- evidence of success in solving business problems
- personality and ethos - you need to develop a good working relationship with them
After you choose the design agency you want to commission, you need to work with them to write a design brief. The brief should cover your project's key objectives and your business' strategic goals. See how to write an effective design brief and find more tips to help you choose and work with a designer.
Setting up a design team for your project
How to set up a good team to manage your design project and provide them with the right resources to work successfully
Whether you are doing the design work within your business or employing an external design agency, you will often need to set up a team that will manage the design project.
What is a design team?
A design team will typically include:
- a designer - who will generate and document ideas about the product and produce a creative vision
- a project manager - who will have the authority to make design-related decisions, and the responsibility to ensure that the project team stays on task and on budget
- relevant staff - eg from sales, technical, marketing and research teams, who will contribute key information to the design process
- selected customers, suppliers or stakeholders - whose buy-in or engagement is essential to the success of your project
As well as the people, you will need to consider and determine their roles, objectives and the tools and methods they use, as well as the project structure within which they will operate.
Design project resources
Your design team will need the right resources and conditions to work successfully. These may include:
- time, equipment and funding to do the job
- encouragement for people to be creative, with only essential restrictions
- a good brief - see how to write and effective design brief
- regular reviews and updates so that time, effort and money are not wasted
- good project management - read more about project management
- clear agreements on issues such as intellectual property, regulations, etc
Design IP protection for start-ups
If your business creates an original design, it is considered your intellectual property (IP). You may want to protect it from unauthorised copying or misuse by other people.
An original design can include your:
- products and services
- written or artistic material created by you or your organisation.
Different types of IP rights can effectively protect your designs, including:
Protecting your designs
There are two main ways of protecting designs in the UK:
Design right is an automatic right which allows you to protect your designs in the UK and prevent others from copying or misusing them. If you register a design, you may be able to strengthen and extend protection to other countries of any design right or copyright protection that may exist automatically. See how to protect your registered designs.
Making money from your designs
Design, just like any other type of intellectual property, is your asset. You can sell it, licence it and use it to increase your revenue or as security.
Design sets you apart from the competition and embodies your unique selling points and marketing potential. Protecting your design allows you to maximise its value to your business. Read about protecting intellectual property.
Avoid copying other people's designs
As well as protecting your own design IP, you must make sure you are not infringing the IP of others. If you do, the IP owner can take legal action against you.
It's a good idea to carry out design or trade mark searches to check that someone else hasn't already come up with the same idea as you. See how to avoid infringing other people's IP.