What we can learn from design: TresPlace & Design

[Editor: It’s time for another installment in our ongoing series from TresPlace, a Portland startup who has offered to share their journey—good and bad—with Silicon Florist.]

When Ryan and I first met, he told me that he was on the hunt for a design co-founder. He said that we’d be telling stories that wouldn’t be heard otherwise, shooting our own photo and video with local production talent that we’d get to choose, and we’d be doing it in the best damn coffee city in the world. If that isn’t a creative’s best wet dream, I don’t know what is. I know I did at least four Hammertimes in my head while he was telling me about the idea.

In an industry that has traditionally revolved around engineering & development, design is an area that tech startups have often neglected. Fortunately times are changing and there’s been a big push for design mostly because companies and engineers are enjoying the products made by successful, design-centric startups such as Square, Airbnb, Kickstarter, Path and Twitter. There have been blog posts written about it, people ask about it on Quora and there are even entire sites devoted to explaining it. Companies are realizing the value of having a strong brand with beautiful design coupled with a pleasant user experience and that the web (and mobile) is actually capable of delivering a rich, high-quality experience.

While TresPlace doesn’t have the answers to all the design questions that startups might have, a lot of time is spent on design and we’re having fun designing, building, measuring and learning alongside everyone else. Design can be confusing. There are brand designers, product designers, UX designers, UI designers and many, many more. The following are some nuggets of knowledge that Ryan and I think are important for startups to think about in regards to design:

1) Design is an iterative process.

A strong argument for having a design co-founder is that, like the technical side of a product, a product’s design never ends. This concept of iterative design is well-understood in the creative community but is often times overlooked by others. When we started designing TresPlace, it was like a designer’s jungle gym. We had stunning, high-res photos and videos shot by our team of photographers and videographers, great content written by our network of talented writers and a product based around storytelling. Ryan & I began by making design decisions that made sense but are now making revisions as needed. Is TresPlace’s current design the final design? Hell no. In fact, a revised design is currently in the works and it already looks a lot different than what you currently see. The company has evolved and we’ve revised the design to reflect the changes based on feedback from our customers. However, each and every single time an iteration of TresPlace has been shipped, we’ve been proud of the design and that is what has mattered most.

2) Use design to solve problems.

It’s one of the first concepts designers read in books that inspire them to become designers: Designers solve complex problems. At TresPlace, there is one big, complex problem that we continuously try to solve: How do you present our high-quality content in a way that’s both functional and beautiful to our users? We try and find solutions through design and we hope that startups reading this will consider doing the same. Whether it’s difficulty getting more users, losing ground in a competitive market or differentiating themselves from the rest of the industry, a lot of problems can be greatly reduced, or solved, with design.

3) Design can only get you so far.

It’s safe to say that design is still trying to catch up to where engineering/development is on the tech startup priority list. That being said, design shouldn’t be the only focus for a product. For even the prettiest products aren’t always the most successful but it should always be of equal importance as development/engineering. A product without a balanced design-to-engineering ratio isn’t going to be great. It might be good, but not great. Have you ever thought about how quickly your Instagram photos are uploaded? Do you think you’d use it as much without its incredibly fast back-end? Sure, you’d still get pretty filtered photos and a good experience. But not great. How do you think they gained such a large user base when the camera app market was and still is incredibly crowded? There needs to be an equal amount of attention given to designing and engineering. People are getting better at telling what bad design is even if they’ve never taken design course. If it doesn’t look pretty and function quickly, you’re very likely to lose their attention.

Speaking of an even design-to-engineering ratio, we’re currently building v.2 and ramping up on the technical side to balance things out. Look for new features (including a more robust search and smarter image display), cleaner, faster, more efficient code, enhanced performance and, of course, a more refined design.

To all of the startups that pay a great deal of attention to design, thank you. Your work is very inspirational and please keep doing what you do.

By integrating business, technology and human-centered design, TresPlace hopes to solve problems and incubate new ideas. We want to tell stories. We want to produce photos and videos that everyone can appreciate. But most importantly, we want to connect people with that perfect cup of coffee at the perfect place where they can call home — their TresPlace.

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