Good design - The catch 22 of consumer facing Indian product startups

By Raghu Mohan|28th May 2013
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Over the past few years, there have been a significant upsurge in the number of consumer facing products from India. To a large extent, the growing importance of design and a great user experience is because of this. However, because of the scarcity of good visual and user experience designers, the design also frequently features in the long list of problems that a product startup faces in India.

We at YourStory have seen this problem grow over the last few years and we have ourselves run efforts in educating the entrepreneur ecosystem of the importance and the basics of design and user experience. But let's face it; as a startup, you're going to have to hire a designer and work with them to get that premium look and feel to your product.


Catch22

So how are startups going about doing this? We spoke to three startups in three different stages and we found out some interesting facts about getting design work done and working with designers -

Early stage - Designers and design work is super expensive 

Vardhan Koshal, founder of carpooling company, Ridingo believes that a consumer facing product like his requires the best design possible. However, design for the current version of Ridingo has

Ridingo

been done in-house. Vardhan says, "I think me and my co-founder have some design sensibility. It is by no means the best, but I guess that's a good starting point for us, where we can practice and learn."Here's why they didn't hire a professional designers - "Getting visual design done is very expensive. We wanted to build a 10 - 12 page mobile app and the quote we got from a good design house was about INR 1.5 Lakh. A single page website for our specifications would have costed us INR 28,000. For a whole website, good design houses will charge you INR 12000 to 13000 per page, and INR 30,000 for a landing page. In fact, there was a design house which said they "help startups" who told me that their minimum package starts at INR 5 Lakhs!"

Even when it comes to hiring resources, Vardhan has had a similar experience. He says, "We were in talks with a freelancer who was going to take six weeks to complete his task. He would work 20 hours a week and per hour he would charge $50 USD. And if you want to hire full time, the average package for a designer today is 7 Lakhs per annum."

"If you want professional design work on your site, you better be funded or have a designer founder," Vardhan added.

So we spoke with a recently funded company...

Mid Stage - Designers are still expensive, but it's better to have them 

MineWhat builds customer engagement tools for e-commerce companies. They had closed a seed round of about $400,000 USD last year. Janakiram, co-founder of MineWhat looks at design in a very holistic way. He says, "Design is about how a product works and not only how beautiful it looks. At

Minewhat

MineWhat, we emphasize on a minimal design. To us, a good design is one which has got its prioritization for call to action right. We also lay great emphasis on colour psychology, as each colour has an implication. Also, we believe in showing information progressively to our users.""Now all of this was done by me till very recently. We now have a visual designer. Finding the designer wasn't easy as we were looking for someone who has a strong understanding of all the phases of design. Your regular design grads don't make that cut. Good designers are very expensive. One way to make them affordable is to offer them stock options. At least that's what we've done."

So how does it work for more established startups? Well, the answer was quite interesting...

Established startup - If your product is great, you can get away with bad design

Isaac John Wesley recently joined InterviewStreet as a designer and has been instrumental in their website's redesign. He says, "I think the redesign has really helped the site improve conversions by quite a bit. By improving its layout and navigation, conversions on the site exponentially improved. Since March, we've seen as many as 2000 signups."

Isaac shares that designers are very open to working at startups. He says, "I was a founding member at WalletKit before this and I know a lot of good designers who are really enthusiastic about working at startups. I don't think a startup should go the freelance way. It's about tapping into the right networks."

However, Isaac believes that if the product is good, a startup can get away with bad design and user experience. He says, "Even though InterviewStreet was not really known for design, they already had clients like Facebook, Google and Quora. We've had customers complain to us about not being able to navigate to screens and we used to give them URLs to get to the screen they wanted to get to. But the best part was that they were happy with that, because of the value that InterviewStreet provided to them. Honestly speaking, if you have a great product that provides great value, you can get away with having a bad design and user experience."

However, Isaac is an advocate of having a designer in a founding team. He says, "Visual appeal does matter. Your customers aren't going to say 'wow your code is so beautiful'."

As it stands, design is a problem for Indian Startups in all stages, because a) Good designers are hard to find and b) they're very expensive.

What has your experience been with getting design work done for startups?

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